Sunday, December 14, 2008

InstaRapFlix 15/16: Born 2B Gangsta?/ Mixtape, Inc.

Right from the title we know we're in for, uhh... some kind of experience. It's telling that there aren't any user reviews/comments at all for 2005's Born 2B Gangsta? (Netflix rating: 2 stars), but if nobody else has watched it, that kind of almost makes it my duty!

...Except, it turns out nobody else has played it because it seems to be broken, and the video plays like watching a scrambled cable station, like trying to watch the Playboy channel without paying for it. Yeah, we've all been there.

So, anyway; I rang up their customer service number (it was a little embarrassing when I had to spell out for them, "to be is spelled like the number two and the letter bee, but one word, and then gangsta is with an A at the end, not an ER. Oh, and it ends with a question mark"), reported that one, and moved on to Mixtape, Inc. (actual onscreen title, Mixtape, Inc. The Movie - Netflix rating: 2.5 stars). This one looks like a better movie, anyway (the first comment starts out, "this is one of the best hip-hop documentaries I've seen!"); I just picked Born because it was shorter and I was being lazy.

It starts out with the onscreen question, "What's the difference between mixtapes and bootlegging?" and we're immediately answered by laughing voices, "nothing! Nothing at all!" This doc hits us with an impressive list of interviewees, like DJs Enuff, Doctor Dre & Ed Lover, and DJ Lady K, to artists like Kanye West (who busts an impromptu freestyle), Chuck D, Xzibit and Lloyd Banks. And a large chunk of the doc follows music store owner Alan Berry, who was arrested for selling mixtapes in Minneapolis, and a couple store owners in Cleveland.

There's some great history in this doc. DJ Red Alert gets on and talks about mix-tapes' rawest origins as recorded performances at parties and clubs, and being one of the original tape-makers for Bambaataa and the other originators in The Bronx. DJ Brucie B talks about how he originated and popularized giving DJ shout-outs on tapes. Ron G talks about the actual blank tapes (he used Maxwells), K-Slay talks about his criminal past, Clue talks about making the first mix-CDs, and almost everybody talks about how Kid Capri started changing the game by selling tapes based on his skill rather than how hot the records he was using were.

It then gets into the battle with the RIAA. They interview a copyright attorney, Berry's lawyer and a cop who busted a place in Queens for selling mixtapes (though they subtitle him when he's speaking perfect English, which seems like a weird jibe at his being Asian). Finally, it ends with a bit about mp3s and Itunes. It would have been interesting to look at mp3s starting to phase out mix-tape DJs (who needs to spend $15 on a Clue CD when you can DL all those exCLUEsives for free?), but I guess they're saving that for the sequel.

The only real downside to this flick is that the voiceover narration is corny as hell. It never adds anything worthwhile and just drags the film down whenever he gets on the mic... sort of like DJs adding name-drop all over their tapes. And the narrator sometimes goes on for a good stretch. Early on he says the film's not making any statements, just showing us how it is; but then the narrator gets on some pretty big soapboxes later in the film - they could've cut a good twenty minutes of that junk out (including his weird, extended "war games" metaphor).

But besides that and a few notable absences - nothing on the Invisbl Skratch Picklz or that whole west coast scratch tape movement (Beat Junkies, 5th Platoon, 1200 Hobos, etc) at all?? - it's a pretty comprehensive, almost definitive documentary on mix-tapes. Definitely some recommended viewing.

I guess it turned out to be a lucky break that Born 2B Gangsta? didn't wind up playing.

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