Rhyme & Reason

Rhyme & Reason ★★★½

As an historical document Peter Spirer's film captures a crucial crossroads for rap music. The mid-nineties was a time when gold and platinum record sales were becoming the norm and the final shift away from the musics origins into the commercial arena were well under way. Filming many of the leading artists of that period we see both the old and new attitudes on show.

This serves as a 101 on rap music, heading back to its beginnings right through to its multi-million sales success. Spirer interviews a vast range of people who offer their memories of how the music inspired them and the social forces that drive it. He has a decent go at trying to bring it all into focus, the rappers connecting the dots between the music, poverty, drugs, crime and discrimination found in America.

Most of the rappers offer eloquent, considered opinions (with the exception of Method Man who is too scared to drop his persona) opening up a different side to those with only one perception of the culture. KRS-1 (pretty much the go-to guy in the 90's for commentary on rap), Dr Dre (who offers some of the most mature insight) The Pharcyde, EPMD, Ras Kass, MC Eiht, The Fugees, Ice-T, Salt n' Pepa, Biggie Smalls, 2pac... the list is pretty comprehensive.

The subject of women in rap is given pretty short thrift however. Only a small segment skims over some of those who have made their name as emcee's like Roxanne Shante and Lauren Hill. Worse still Spirer seems hesitant to explore the issue of the word bitch, an interview Da Brat where she justifies it creating an unbalanced perspective. Rap and hip-hop has remained a predominantly male dominated music and opening up that can of worms with those on the inside of the music would've created more of an edge.

Some of the wider elements of hip hop culture are touched upon such as graffiti, DJing and breakdancing but these feel quickly sidelined. Spirer also doesn't touch on the use of slang or the clothes that used to be such a vital part of the scene. That said, perhaps only a series of films could capture such a vast range of topics and in the time he has, Spirer creates a reasonable estimation of where rap music stood almost twenty years ago.