Rhyme & Reason

Rhyme & Reason, Peter Spirer's documentary about the history of rap music, represents a marked improvement over 1995's more prominent rap documentary, The Show—which was half documentary, half concert film, and effective as neither. Spirer's movie is much more coherent and entertaining, largely because of the filmmaker's somewhat perverse, yet effective, tactic of keeping the actual musical performances to a minimum. Rhyme & Reason traces hip-hop culture from its roots in the streets and parks of New York to its current standing as a massive commercial industry. The rappers in the film are often witty, smart and engaging, but Spirer showcases so many of them that few end up making much of an impression. Nonetheless, Rhyme & Reason does a nice job giving hip-hop its due as an important art form, without sugar-coating its seamier sides. The film is at its best when it explores the mildly surreal aspects of hip hop's evolution, such as a segment set at the Jack The Rapper Convention, a rap-industry trade show where rappers, groupies and industry types gather in a Disney-owned hotel, much to the bewilderment and consternation of the establishment's other guests. The ending drags a bit, particularly as gangsta rappers tearfully discuss their love for their mothers while violins swell in the background, but for the most part, Rhyme & Reason is an entertaining, perceptive documentary.

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