Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Here's the Beef

DVD Review: Peter Spirer, Beef, QD3/Image Entertainment

Got a beef? Well, you've come to the right place! Somewhat misshapen, but inherently compelling, Beef could as easily have been titled The Battle. Released in 2003, the dramatic doc offers a lively look at great rap battles throughout hip-hop history, starting with Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee and ending with 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. Directed by Peter Spirer (Rhyme and Reason) and produced by Quincy Jones III (QD3), Beef is endorsed by his famous father, whose plea for peace concludes the film. Other participants include Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Common, and Treach (Naughty by Nature).

The first third, which outlines the top battles, is the most dynamic. After that, the film spends too much time on some battles, not enough on others (the legendary "Roxanne" beef, for instance, is only mentioned in passing). Part of the problem may be that the early rappers, like KRS-One/Boogie Down Productions ("South Bronx") and LL Cool J ("To Da Break of Dawn"), are so charismatic, while many of the modern day battlers, like the members of Mobb Deep and Murder, Inc., featuring the knife-wielding Blackchild (who stabbed 50 Cent), have replaced weapons with words--possibly because their pens don't carry the same weight.

The turning point, naturally, is the battle between Ice Cube and NWA. It was followed, in short order, by the apocalyptic Tupac vs. Biggie battle, which involved some of the same personnel, like NWA's Dr. Dre, who went on to form Death Row Records with the (truly) criminal minded Suge Knight. And the fun that was part of the early battles was gone. As Busy notes, he and Moe Dee are still friends--in fact, they always were--even if the latter won that particular war of words. (The fun footage of Busy from Wild Style reminded me that I still really need to see that film.) Beef is narrated in an effectively low-key style by Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Don King: Only in America) and was followed by two sequels, which cover some of the infamous battles not included in the first, like Eminem vs. the Insane Clown Posse.

Postscript: Image from Amazon. Thanks to Gillian for passing this disc my way. While I'm at it, here's a list of the hip-hop-related reviews I've written for Amazon: Outkast - "B.O.B." / "Ms. Jackson" (DVD single), Ruff Ryders [with DMX, Eve, et al], Murda Muzik [horrible home movie from the Mobb Deep crew], Cypress Hill - Smoke Out, Run-DMC - Greatest Hits, Suge Knight on the Real Death Row Records [amateurish vanity project], Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel [also directed by Spirer], Tupac Resurrection [surprise Oscar nominee for best documentary], Biggie and Tupac [must-see Nick Broomfield doc], Scratch [Doug Pray's DJ-oriented follow-up to Hype!], The Freshest Kids - A History of the B-Boy [these are the breaks!], Lyricist Lounge - Hip Hop Video Classics, Style Wars [Henry Chalfant's graffiti classic], Bomb the System [fictional take on the graffiti life], Public Enemy - Live at the House of Blues and It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion 1987 [live precursor to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back], Def Poetry - Season One [hosted by Mos Def], Freestyle - The Art of Rhyme, Xzibit - Restless Exposed, Pimp My Ride - The Complete First Season [hosted by Xzibit], and "X to the Z" pal Eminem - Presents the Anger Management Tour. After reading through a few of these reviews, especially those written between 2001-2003, I'm embarrassed to admit that some of them are pretty weak, but I think I've gotten better at writing about hip-hop since--hey, I've only had five years of practice!

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