Sunday, August 1, 2010

InstaRapFlix #28: Pick Up the Mic: The Evolution of Homohop

It's been a while since I've done an InstaRapFlix (since April, in fact); and since I have a lofty goal of building a database that refers, like, every obscure "random" hip-hop doc ever, I'd really better get on the ball. So here I am; and this one seems interesting: Pick Up the Mic: The Evolution of Homohop (Netflix rating: 3 stars). I mean, I'm disappointed that "Homohop" is even a word, let alone one somebody took seriously enough to use for the title of their DVD, but still... the premise seems interesting. And like the Nerdcore documentary I did before (which really turned out to be a glorified tour DVD for one guy), it's fun to learn about hip-hop scenes I really know next to nothing about.

So it's a full-length doc (regular readers will know a lot of these turn out to be ridiculously short) and opens up with a live performance of a song called "No Fags Allowed." Then we cut to rapper Deadlee, who wrote and performed that stage, explaining that he wrote that song - to I guess show that they're not offended by comments like "no fags allowed" because they'll proudly say it themselves. Or something. His logic didn't really seem that clear. But anyway, if you're thinking, "I've never heard of Deadlee," then you've already found the film's weak point. It's full of rappers who you've never heard of (and most of whom, frankly, you wouldn't be adding their records to your crates even if they had one). There ARE known homosexual rappers out there, like Afrika from the Jungle Brothers, Invincible, Madee... not to mention all of the rappers who are rumored to be or presumed to be gay, like Queen Latifah or Erick Sermon*. It would've been great, but you won't hear from any of them in this doc.

The other flaw is that, because it's so PC, half the things they say wind up being so obvious, you know what you're going to hear long before it comes out of their mouths. "Hip-hop wasn't made to exclude anyone," "we're here to challenge stereotypes," "sexual preference doesn't have anything to do with skills," etc. Surely you knew you'd be hearing all these sentiments as soon as you saw the title of the film... so spending the next forty minutes hearing them paraded out before you one by one just feels redundant and boring. And, perhaps more to the point, it's a big circle jerk. It's a group of 10 or 15 rappers you've never heard of - this doc happily plops down and spends all its focus on just a small scene based in San Francisco - all saying how great each other are.

But getting past the negatives, there are good aspects, too. One thing, because this is full-length and not padded with music video clips and other junk like so many hip-hop docs are; you get actually spend enough time with the subjects to delve into subjects and who they are. I'd certainly never heard of Tim'M before, but he gets a lot of time to talk, and the crew travels around with him, to the point where you actually feel like they're building. And if you ARE a fan of the artists presented here, you get to hear a lot from them so you won't feel ripped off (as opposed to Slip 'N' Slide docs I was covering, where artists dropped one sentence sound-bites saying nothing and were never heard from again). Several of the segments even include interviews with the artists' parents.

Towards the end, it finally breaks out of that San Francisco scene, and gets into an interesting look at gay hip-hop websites and all. So it basically starts out as a pretty bland, tiresome puff piece, but slowly builds into an interesting documentary. At the last 5 or so minutes, it gets into a pretty interesting talk on "homohop" penetrating the mainstream; just too bad it took so long to get there. So, it's not a great film; Errol Morris isn't gonna have to find a new line of work... but it's worth watching once, especially since it can be streamed for free on Netflix.

* Ok, that Erick Sermon rumor is old... but it would've been fun to just see an exasperated Erick grabbing the camera and exclaiming, "for the last time: I am NOT gay," right? lol

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