Wednesday, September 8, 2010

InstaRapFlix #30: P-Star Rising

P-Star Rising (Netflix rating: 3 stars) is a surprisingly good documentary. I was originally just curious to see it because the description mentioned that the documentary's focus, P-Star, was the daughter of an 80's-era "rising star in hip-hop" who had to drop out of the music industry; and I was curious who the unnamed star was. Even when I read his real name in the film's press reviews (Jesse Diaz), that didn't really help. But I did some online research and found it's Jessie Jes, who worked on the Roxanne answer record, "No More Roxanne" by Zelee, and who worked on records by artists like Debbie Deb. Anyway, my curiosity now sated, I noticed that this film had a bunch of really strongly positive reviews... so I decided to check it out.

P-Star is a 9 year-old rap star (the film calls her, in text, "the youngest female rapper ever" - but actually Raven Symoné has her well beat, releasing her first album at age 5). I mean: I've never heard of her, but this documentary presents her as being pretty hugely successful. And I don't really follow childrens' entertainment, so I'll take their word for it.

It's interesting, if unsurprising, to see how much a child star (probably most adult strs, too, for that matter)is packaged: everything from the themes of her lyrics, her look (she's on a pretty rigorous physical training regime). One of her songs is a cover of Special Ed's "I Got It Made," another is Rob Base's "It Takes Two." I'm using the word "cover" politely, 'cause I don't want to accuse a nine-year old of biting, but... the point is, they're clearly being marketed towards kids who won't recognize them as anything other than completely original lyrics.

But what makes this film so compelling isn't so much that it reveals what we pretty much already knew about pop music. It's the surprisingly personal access the family gives to the filmmakers to document their complete lives. We see more about the mother's drug use and older sister's learning disability (the latter a tragic consequence of the prior), than we see backstage or in the studio (though there's a funny see where she bitches about Remy Ma being unprofessional). It's not a glamorous biopic of another pop icon, but a thoughtful look at a family surviving off the incredibly fortunate success of their very young daughter.

It's not a perfect documentary; it's a little staged... and the rap nerd in me is incredibly disappointed they didn't use the opportunity to ask Jesse anything about his past hip-hop career - I want to hear about the making of "No More Roxanne," dammit!. But compare this to my last InstaRapFlix outing, or pretty much 99% of the other hip-hop bio docs out there, and this is a real revelation. This is actually a quality film that's worth watching, even if (like me) you don't know or care about the artist before-hand.

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