the 1st rap album that was worth $10 million? the 1st rap album that had 10.000 copies sold in its entirety? the 1st rap album that was so popular after it was first released that it’s still in theaters 15 years later? the 1st rap album that was the 2nd best-selling album of all time in the country? the 1st rap album in America to see its title-only version, “I don’t owe no nigga no money,” replaced with the two-minute version that we all know and love today?
The answer is no. We have to go back to the early 90s to find that out.
For the past decade, an average of 30 music-centric documentaries have gone into the field per year. Many of these include some insight about some of the musicians who are featured in them—especially the members of rap groups that are most often portrayed and analyzed—and they often do so at a significant length. Yet many also contain an underlying theme, often related to the life of a musician: how they are treated by everyone else they know.
Most have also had the capacity to get deep, to explore subjects such as relationships between musicians and fans or the extent to which artists are treated as celebrities, and so on.
And most of them never touch on the subject of music.
This is not a complaint. This is basic reality: documentaries are for entertaining people, and entertainment is good for you and me. We need the opportunity to see what other people in similar situations go through.
Even my colleague Jason Houghton, a prolific music journalist, admits the point of documentaries is to tell stories and tell them well. A documentary should make us think as we see or hear or hear something, not just as we want to. The good of society requires that we look beyond the facts—what happened at the time in the person’s life—into the deeper, more complicated story of the people in the story. The best documentaries can do so. They can also offer more insight into the people we know and love.
But there are no good documentaries about hip-hop.
I was a film critic before I was a music critic. I was not part of the industry. I’m a journalist (and music critic), but I didn’t want to see what it takes to make a great documentary. I was looking for better music stories, and I did not want to get sucked into all that, the ”
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