Ava DuVernay’s Debut ‘This Is The Life’ Ranks Amongst Hip Hop’s Biggest Documentaries

In the event you say “hip hop” and “Los Angeles” in the identical sentence, gangsta rap instantly involves thoughts. And with good motive. When N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton burst by the gate in 1988 it introduced a sound and imaginative and prescient so highly effective and so distinctive to town and its tradition that it could turn out to be the constructing block for successive waves of artists. At the back of a well being meals retailer on Crenshaw Blvd., nonetheless, a unique scene was germinating alongside the wheatgrass and natural produce which prized verbal dexterity and acutely aware lyrics over gritty tales of gang life and get together anthems.

From 1989 to 1995, the Good Life Cafe hosted hip hop open mic nights each Thursday which helped domesticate Los Angeles’ various hip hop scene. The 2008 documentary That is the Life, chronicles the scene and its main gamers and is at present streaming on Netflix. It was the primary characteristic movie by Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay, who would go on to direct such motion pictures as 2014’s Selma, the 2016 documentary 13th, and created the mini-series When They See Us and the hit tv present Queen Sugar.  DuVernay is the scene’s most well-known export, having carried out there as a part of the rap duo Figures of Speech. Different notable luminaries embody the teams Jurassic 5 and the Freestyle Fellowship. 

The hip hop open mic nights on the Good Life Cafe have been based by B. Corridor, who was associates with the shop’s house owners, and her son, the musician R. Kain Blaze. Corridor possessed a matriarchal authority, which helped nurture creativity and maintain the peace, no small feat on the time. “I imply, man, we’re in the course of South Central, the place it goes down on the each day, and all people was in a position to come right here and simply create,” says rapper Tray Loc. Whereas its beginnings have been homespun and humble, it drew a technology of younger MC’s trying to hone their craft. “It turned type of a mecca for talent,” says Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na. 

Performers from all backgrounds have been welcome to get on the mic on the Good Life so long as they adopted the home guidelines; no cursing, no chewing gum, no leaning on the work hanging on the wall behind the stage and no iggedys, diggedys or migiddedys, a lyrical pattern popularized by Brooklyn’s Das EFX and seen as a lyrical cop out. In the event you did properly, you acquired the approval of the group, and, extra importantly, your fellow MCs, none extra coveted than that of the Freestyle Fellowship. “All of the MCs that went to the Good Life have been making an attempt to impress the Freestyle Fellowship,” says rapper and performer Summary Impolite. In case your shit was wack, the group instructed you to “go the mic” and parted earlier than you for the stroll of disgrace out the entrance the door. It didn’t matter in case you had a file out, as Fats Joe discovered on an early journey out west. “He thought he was probably the greatest rappers on this planet however we really knew we have been a number of the greatest rappers on this planet,” remembers the MC Ellay Khule with delight.

Whereas early crowds might quantity as few as 4, the open mic nights would finally draw lots of, far exceeding the efficiency area’s capability. Quickly celebrities and business gamers have been seen within the crowd. The A&R males caught out most in line with Chali 2na, saying, “That dude is from some label or one thing. Both that or he’s the police.” Others recall with bemusement the night time Shannan Doherty got here down. Some got here right down to take notes. Summary Impolite notes the affect of Good Life common Quantity 10 on early ‘90s cuts by Ice Dice and the way Bone Thugs-N-Concord borrowed the sing-song lyrical type of Freestyle Fellowship’s Myka 9. Whereas imitation stands out as the sincerest type of flattery, it doesn’t pay the payments. 

Whereas This Is the Life possesses the look of the low-budget first time characteristic it’s, DuVernay’s narrative expertise are on full show and her familiarity with the subject material offers it an authority which is each thorough and affectionate. It’s a properly completed and pleasing viewing expertise, whether or not or not you’re aware of the artists and ranks among the many greatest hip hop documentaries ever made. Whereas fame and fortune got here to comparatively few of the Good Life veterans, that’s not the sport they have been taking part in within the first place. “We have been all the time artists not businessmen,” explains Ellay Khule. “Whereas another person was getting up a scheme to be any individual’s supervisor or go to high school, we was making an attempt to be the most effective lyricists on the planet. After which, for a small time, we did that.”

Benjamin H. Smith is a New York based mostly author, producer and musician. Comply with him on Twitter: @BHSmithNYC.

Watch This Is The Life on Netflix