Sunday, April 8, 2018

RAPTURE // Netflix Hip Hop Docu-Series (Review)

I love a good story, and I particularly love a good come-up story. Amplify that when it comes to the come-up story of an artist, and it's always a tale worth taking in. Netflix is on fire these days, and one of their latest releases is an eight-part docu-series called "Rapture" that takes a deep look into the creative journey of some hip hop legends...and hip hop newbies.

I don't discriminate. Of course I was pleased to see that my favourite rapper of all time was featured, and it was great to learn more about Nas, even this far into his career. I appreciated every minute of it. From a legend like Nas, to a new kid on the block called A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie (that I had never heard of until I watched his episode), the storytelling was excellent and even before I had the chance to take in the music of the artists, I was happy to first find out what inspired their artistry.

There were eight episodes in total:

1) LOGIC: Gray Matters
2) NAS & DAVE EAST: The Bridge
3) TI: Taking a Stand
4) G-EASY: Worldwide Amplified
5) 2 CHAINZ: Sleep When U Die
6) RAPSODY: Raising the Bars
7) JUST BLAZE: It's Lit
8) A BOOGIE WIT DA HOODIE: Uptown Baby

They all captured me equally, regardless of my personal perspectives on the main character in question. While my musical ear was developed listening to the hip hop of Nas...it still didn't take away from the story of A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. On a personal level, they are all passionate about their message. On a musical level, well...needless to say, not everyone is created equally.

Watching them all within the span of two days, I felt my appreciation for hip hop grow upon the conclusion of my binge. A serious reggae lover and true soca head by default, I admittedly haven't been "keeping up" with hip hop in my late 30s the way I did when I was a teenager and the years shortly after. I'd still rather listen to the Nas "Illmatic" album for the hundredth time than go out of my way to download G-Easy.

This is most likely the case for many in my generation who believe that "hip hop is dead" (see previous post on Toronto hip hop artist SepTo's departure from the rap game, for that very reason). I often hear people poke fun at the "mumble rappers" and declare that no one will ever replace the legends of the 70s, 80s and 90s. The foundation. No one will ever be as wise, as real, or as lyrical at the original hip hop creators. It's a common sentiment...and for valid reasons.

While I can appreciate that I grew up in an era of AMAZING hip hop and R&B, I can also appreciate that there's a 17-year-old kid right now who also believes that TI is as good as it gets. And there's someone else who is 2Chainz' biggest fan. I get it. I understand the generational change, and try my best not to knock the music and tastes of the young ones coming up after us.

What this docu-series reminded me of is that everyone has a story. From your favourite original beat boxing rapper, to a completely strange mumble rapper...everyone has a story. The difference between hip hop and other genres of music is that the totality of the artist is always so closely linked to their lyrical content, and musical credibility. The words are key. The messages are crucial. For this reason, I haven't had the time to fully take in so many hip hop artists...because I don't have the time to study the lyrics, or get up to speed on their story, origins, etc.

Thanks to Netflix (and also thanks to The Breakfast Club interviews), I have been able to obtain vague familiarity with many artists just based on their media coverage alone. Funnily enough...by listening to their spoken words before their recorded music, I feel like I give many of them a pass: even when their music isn't that great. I connect with them before I even hear the music, and appreciate what they create as a result.

The rapper Logic's story was great, for example. And I can't remember what his music sounded like throughout his episode, but I definitely remember the way his story made me feel. It was a story of victory, and joy. Personal triumph, and the beauty of art and expression as tools of healing. I can't say that I'll download his album any time soon, but I definitely placed a call in to see if my college-aged nephew was listening to him. Logic seems like a kid with positive and inspirational messages to share, and I can't be mad at that. Actually, I applaud it.

The Nas and Dave East episode were fantastic--just to hear the personal conversations, the anecdotes, and to see the locations where many of the familiar stories of his life took place. Nothing can shake Nas from the throne I have him on, and watching him in his grown-man essence, listening to him speak, and learning more about his mind makes me realize that his place very high in the ranks of hip hop history is well deserved. Legendary.

TI has my heart as well, ever since I saw him perform live at Young Jeezy's Inauguration Ball in Washington, D.C. two nights before Barack Obama was sworn into office. TI performed "Live Your Life" and other hits at the time, and it was musical heaven. The who's-who of hip hop were present in the room and TI was the star of the show. It was a beautiful moment, and I love to see that his career has transcended many ups...and many downs, to find this current place he's at as a family man and community leader.

In TI's episode, he spent a lot of time with his family, and also met with various civil rights leaders about how he could use his influence as an artist to help the black community. Lyrically evolved, he realizes that it's in everyone's best interest that he spread words of wisdom, and include more socially conscious lyrics to his repertoire. TI's genuine interest in helping the community, his obvious charm, and love for his children were endearing to watch. I believe that TI will continue to be a great community leader...he has a special something.

G-Easy was interesting, and introspective. Do I particularly remember his music...no. But that's not to say that I don't respect his story, and hope that his career continues to soar. His episode followed him on a trip to South America, and was interesting for biographical reasons, as well as cultural reasons as he interacted with folks there. He equated his writing to therapy, and was grateful for the position he found himself in career-wise. Not only was the story interesting, but it was interesting to me how so many hip hop artists exist right now that I have NO clue about. Like, zero. Not a Grammy nomination or Billboard chart-topper have brought some of these folks to my attention.

It's interesting because when I looked deeper into some of these artists, I was amazed at just how much they had accomplished already. I'm someone who is usually in tune with pop culture, music, and entertainment in general, so it actually made me question my attention to hip hop...and also my age.

True music sees no colour/time or boundaries...but I definitely am a few steps behind when it comes to the music that's driving today's youth. The Just Blaze episode was right up my alley, because I was there in the Jay-Z era, and the Swizz Beats era, and while the various producers met and chatted with Just Blaze, I knew--and felt--that they represented a generation and a sound that I am intrinsically familiar with. Many of these producers have evolved into so much more than beats and albums. While their musical aptitude continues to amaze me, it's the humility and work ethic that were awesome to witness.

To some extent, I can say the same about 2Chainz, as he's now falling on the older end of the "new era" of hip hop spectrum. It's been about seven or so years since I fell in love with this artist and his song "Spend It" and I'm pleased to see that not only is he still talented and likeable, but that the brother is also intelligent and a family man. His story featured him on tour...with a broken leg, and so dedicated to his fans that he performed through his injury. Now that's love.

Hip hop artist Rapsody was a joy to watch. An absolute joy. She was authentic, and humble, yet ridiculously talented. What I loved and respected the most was that she wasn't out to "get" anyone, or out to prove anything as a "female" MC. Her character and musicianship just continue to grow, build, and dominate...naturally. She was inspirational. Talented, and beautiful. Again, I haven't been too familiar with her...but am definitely motivated to take in her music and really hear all of what she has to say. I like her already, even with just a surface-level familiarity.

I hadn't heard of Boogie before this special, and chances are I may not encounter him again. That's not to take away from his artistry and career longevity, but I do realize that there may be a disconnect between me...and whatever he has to say. I absolutely loved how he took care of his community, however. I could see that his personal integrity, and responsibility to look out for those around him, are an amazing natural characteristic to have.

I can appreciate that Netflix and producers Mass Appeal (Sacha Jenkins and Ben Selkow) chose this range of artists to be featured, because it did exactly what it was most likely intended to do: educate me on some new rappers/producers, and dig deeper into the lives of some of the ones I already rate.

Hip hop continues to amaze me. The power it yields and the brilliance that it inspires is something that is beautiful to see grow, mature, and even change over the years. I will always gravitate more towards a Nas-type than I will an A Boogie Wid Da Hoodie-type, but that is not to say that I will disregard what is going on in pop culture. Today.

It continues to be the dominant musical force out there, and even into my forties and fifties, I hope that I can still tune in to see wha gwan, and be able to connect with the hip hop performers of the day and their messages. Or at least with their intent.

Artists are all storytellers, at the end of the day. Rappers. Dancers. Musicians. Authors. All artists are simply taking something from within, and transforming that energy into something tangible. .Something we can see, and feel, and something that moves us. Something that moves others.

It's only been a few days since the release of Rapture (March 30, 2018) but I'm pretty sure I'm going to circle back and watch some of it again. I've already told a few people to make sure they add it to their playlist. The feeling of inspiration is priceless, from all of the episodes. It's more than just the music...and I guess it always has been. Hip hop is, and will always continue to be a reflection of real life. The good...and the bad. And especially that which has the power to transform individuals, and society at large. It's more than just music, and this series is a reminder of that.



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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