Documentaries

Documentary Review – Welcome To Death Row

Year of Release: 2001

Production Company: Xenon Pictures

For a while, I have been considering reviewing documentaries. I have done album reviews (Though I should also review more albums from groups and artists), as well as movies with rappers in them, and I also plan to write about a few biopics in the future, and there are so few of those (I guess I should also include the TV movies like the one about Hammer and the one about TLC, as well as others).

What I am going to talk about right now is “Welcome To Death Row,” which is the documentary on, you guessed it, Death Row Records and how it rose to the top of the rap game and fell from grace.

This film documented everything well, from how Dr. Dre and Suge Knight had started the label, to bringing in Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound, to people talking about how Suge was a nightmare to work with, and also to Tupac Shakur’s arrival to the label and everything else that lead to its downfall.

I remember having watched it on, I think, Encore or Starz a long time ago and ended up watching it from the part when it talked about Suge and Dre forming the label but trying to find a parent label to back it, all to the way to the end. So I got to see from the start, when it talked about when Dre was with N.W.A. and how he met Suge when he was a bodyguard for the group. Also, how Dre was still sort of in connection with Priority Records, which backed Ruthless Records, the label Dre was a part of when he was in N.W.A., which was a point in the whole feud between him and Eazy-E.

Now I am not going to summarize the whole story about its rise and fall. What I am going to touch on are the documentations of the events during the label’s reign. I have my read my share of stories about the shady dealings that the label went through, like how Suge had some fellow gang members work security for him or work for him at some other capacity in the label. Each of the interview footage that was shown told a lot of detail about what some people had gone through during their time working there or at least working WITH the label. It seemed like only a few people were interviewed around the time this documentary was being shot. The ones who I saw were recruited during that specific time were Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Jewell (Not, I repeat, NOT to be confused with Jewel Kilcher, the folk and country singer; this artist had that extra L in her name and it was pronounced “ju-ell”) and others who were journalists, publicists, rappers, and so forth. However, some other interviews were archived footage that were edited into the film, particularly the ones from Dre and RBX.

The only thing that was distracting regarding the interview footage was that some of the editing and camera work relied too heavily on odd camera angles and closeups. Sure, some of the footage was fine when it shot the interviewees from a standard angle and a minor closeup was fine. But it didn’t need to get to a point where one guy was talking, but you could see the majority of his face but not his mouth.

Also, being that I watched this on Xfinity On Demand, it seemed that this was an updated version as right at the end, it documented what had happened in recent years. It even mentioned about how Jerry Heller was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in “Straight Outta Compton,” which released 14 years after this had come out. It also even talked about how Death Row was acquired by WIDEawake and eOne, which had happened later, also.

I also must add that there has been talk in the past about how some people want to do an actual movie about Death Row one day, especially after the success of “Straight Outta Compton.” Personally, I am not even sure how they would do it. If they do it, should they cast different actors to play certain guys? The reason I wonder is because with “All Eyez on Me” coming out not too long from now, I wonder who could play Tupac. The guy who played him in AEOM? Or the guy who was seeing for a few seconds in SOC? Or even the guy who played him in that Michel’le TV movie, “Surviving Compton”? Also, would the guy who played Dre in SOC be brought back? That is a good question. Don’t get me wrong, the movie makes for a good story even on a cinematic level, but it just seems hard to cast some parts when there have been a couple of films that came out in recent memory with different actors playing certain people and one coming really soon and having other people play those same people. Though there are some exceptions. Suge Knight was played the same guy in both “Straight Outta Compton” and in “Surviving Compton,” while Biggie in “All Eyez on Me” was played by the same guy who played him in “Notorious.”

Anyway, this documentary gets a pass.

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Soundtrack Albums

Movie Soundtrack Review – The Wash

Year of Release: 2001

Record Label: Aftermath Entertainment/Doggystyle Records/Interscope Records

When The Wash came to theaters, there was no denying that with who the two lead actors in that film were that there would be a soundtrack album to go with it. As I had noted in my review for that film, there was some heavy plugging for the soundtrack. But just how good was the soundtrack? Well, let’s see about that.

There was a time when you would see that if a recording artist had a part in a movie, whether the person was playing a character role or appearing as him or herself, there was a good chance that the artist would be featured on the soundtrack. In the case for this film, there is a lot of influence from both Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg on this album, with Aftermath and Doggystyle respectively having their labels imprinted on the artwork for the cover and disc.

Both Dre and Snoop had a couple of tracks on this album, “On The Blvd” and the titular track called, well, “The Wash.” Not to mention that they were the first and last tracks on the album, respectively. Both tracks have their merits, with Kokane doing his bit on the chorus of “On The Blvd” and the beat definitely has the right feel when you would go out cruising, especially in a low-rider and hydraulics bumping in the process. However, “The Wash” stands out more in comparison. This song felt like an unofficial sequel to “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” from “The Chronic.” There were some parts of the beat that were similar to that song, as well as the mixing of other parts of Leon Haywood’s “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You,” which was also sampled in “Nuthin’ But A G Thang.”

Those songs weren’t the only contribution that Dre had on this album. While he had some influence on the production of some other tracks, he had heavy influence on a couple of that songs that featured then-newcomer Knoc-Turn’al. “Bad Intentions,” which also featured Dre as a rapper, had an awesome beat with a good flute sample to go with it. Also, Knoc-Turn’al provided some good lyrics to go with it. However, “Str8 West Coast,” the other song with Knoc-Turn’al on there, showed more of what he had to offer as a rapper, with a good beat to go with it, too.

As far as the other tracks go, it’s sad to say that so few actually stood out in comparison to the aforementioned songs. While the songs like “Blow My Buzz” from D12 and “Bubba Talk” from Bubba Sparxxx are decent, they were already out from their respective albums that were released the same year. They were played in the movie, yes, so maybe that may have given them a pass. The same could kind of be said about “Holla” from Busta Rhymes, as that was also on “Genesis,” but that album didn’t get released until a month after this one. On the other hand, Xzibit had a standout track in “Get Fucked Up With Me.” It felt like he went back to his roots with the Likwit Crew with this one. It is definitely a good song to drink and/or smoke to.

Then you also had the original tracks from the rest of the artists on this album. Now I can’t complain too much about all of them, because some of them had their own qualities to them. For example, longtime DPG affiliate, Soopafly, did a decent job in “Gotta Get Dis Money, but the chorus gets annoying fast. Bilal had a good song on there, too. I remember when he had quite a presence during those days. Then you had some of the no-names on here. Out of all of the less-than-well-known artists, there were only a couple of tracks that stood out. One was the R&B track, “Everytime” from Toi, or I should say LaToiya Williams. She has a very soulful voice and the song can really get you in the mood for some alone time with your S.O., and also a good sample from J. Dilla’s beat to Slum Village’s “Get Dis Money.” The other is “Riding High” from Daks and R.C. Daks had some good rhymes to go with the beat by Focus. The one track that I kind of put in the middle is “Benefit of the Doubt” from then-Aftermath singer, Truth Hurts, along with rapper Shaunta (Not to be confused with Shawnna from DTP). Truth Hurts didn’t do a bad job on the song as she sang well, and Shaunta did fine on her part, but the beat felt a bit out of place. It felt like something you would hear at a Baptist church on Sunday with the organ sample. I was not big on the rest, though. “Don’t Talk Shit” from Ox had a good beat, but the rapper sounded like he tried too to emulate Busta Rhymes. While “No”from Joe Beast got old fast, but the beat was also nice. Then you had “My High” from R&B singer, Yero, who is not a bad singer, but the whole song sounded too much like something Musiq Soulchild would have done back then. Shaunta sounded too much like she tried to emulate Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown with her song, “Good Lovin’.” I don’t mind dirty rap, but she tried a little too hard with this one.

I remember that I had gotten this album as a Christmas present way back when. Now I don’t mind listening to it, but it definitely has not held up over time. The odd thing about this album is that the standout songs on here were from the more known artists. The rest had more to be desired. It was an average album in hindsight.

3/5

Top 5 Tracks:

  1. The Wash
  2. Bad Intentions
  3. On The Boulevard
  4. Str8 West Coast
  5. Everytime
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Rap Movie Reviews

Rap Movie Review – The Wash

Year of Release: 2001

Film Studio: Lionsgate Films/Lithium Entertainment Group

When I first thought about reviewing “rap movies,” as I like to call them, I had initially thought about mostly doing reviews on these low-budget, straight-to-video releases that had a good amount of rappers in the cast, or at least ones that have a few in starring roles. A couple of examples that I did were Thicker Than Water and Hot Boyz, one movie that I fell out of love with yet still get a bit nostalgic over. The other being a film that I would rather use as a torture technique to punish someone who wronged me. However, I had also thought about the films that starred rappers that still managed to make it to theaters. Of course I had done a couple already that were given theatrical releases, Bones and Half Past Dead.

What is funny about all of this is that there are a lot of movies that have rappers in them, yet I am unsure on which ones to do and what not to do. Of course, at the moment I have a few in mind that I want to do, at least for the time being. One of those films is 2001’s The Wash.

This film was basically a starring vehicle for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. These two have a lot of chemistry when it comes to music. Hell, those two had collaborated a lot dating back to their days with Death Row. But the question is do they also have that kind of chemistry on screen? Well, that is REALLY good question.

Both men in their roles feel like they are playing themselves. Also, Dre’s character, Sean, is basically the straight man to Snoop’s Dee Loc, who is the wisecracker. In some ways it feels like when Ice Cube played Craig to Chris Tucker’s Smokey in the first Friday film. However, those two had amazing chemistry in that film. In this film, that comedic chemistry is lost on Dre and Snoop, despite having worked well together in music.

I have to also note that Dre and Snoop also have production credits in this film, among a few other people. Which I am like “Huh?” I can only imagine that only so many people can help the production of this film. But where the main thing lies is in the writer/director, DJ Pooh (For those who don’t know, his name is actually Mark Jordan). Of course, this film is not DJ Pooh’s first film credit. He had done some of the writing in Friday (And also played a character in that film) and also had written and directed 3 Strikes, a film that I also must revisit. Not to mention he also had a role in this film (More on this later).

Regarding the film’s story and writing is another part that shows how flawed this film is. In a nutshell this movie is about how Sean got fired from a job and ends up getting a job at, well, The Wash, which is the name of a car wash that has the employees washing cars for customers. So it isn’t one of those car washes where people can drive into and the car gets clean by the machinery. Nor is it a car wash where people can do it on their own with the use of hoses and brushes. It seems like a then-modern-day spin on the 1976 cult classic, Car Wash, but with more of a hip-hop/gangsta twist and no Rose Royce soundtrack to back it but rather rap tracks from Snoop and Dre, along with other hip-hop and R&B artists from Snoop’s label and Dre’s label. However, it seemed to have told three different stories in one film (along with a few subplots), which was one of the film’s problems. It even noted the different plot points on the back of the DVD case.

In the film, part of the plot had Sean, Dre’s character, becoming assistant manager to Mr. Washington (George Wallace), who was also called “Mr. Wash” as a nickname. Being that Sean tried to be an honest and responsible employee, he had gotten on the case of Dee Loc, Snoop’s character, for dealing and smoking weed while on the job and slacking. Of course, this rubbed Dee Loc the wrong way enough that it set up some conflict between the two. I must add that those two started off as friends at the beginning of the film who were also roommates. But then later on another subplot takes over the story which showed how flawed the writing was. The other plot of the film involved a kidnapping by Slim, played by DJ Pooh, who was the film’s antagonist, but he didn’t even show up until much later into the film. It was almost the storyline involving him was shoehorned in.

There were some subplots that seemed rather confusing and some that just finished at the snap of a finger. One example for the latter is a romantic subplot involving Sean and a female customer who he hit on at the car wash under the guise of an insurance salesman, when he happened to have stolen a customer’s jacket to hide that he worked at the car wash. Then of course that subplot was dropped not too long after it was revealed that he lied to her. That subplot was not needed at all and it would not have made a difference if it were out of the movie completely. On the plus side, she was never seen again, so there was no predictable part with her coming back and trying to give their whole thing another chance. As for another subplot, I totally wondered what the deal was with Eminem’s role in the film. He played a character who was fired from the car wash, but all he did was just call Mr. Wash and just threaten him. This was before 8 Mile, by the way, and it seemed like he was doing his Slim Shady persona when doing this film. Although I will say that he got some laughs out of me during his appearances.

One thing that annoyed me is that there was a lot of heavy plugging for the film’s soundtrack and also actually saying that the artists who did some songs were from Dre and Snoop themselves, the film’s lead actors. Okay, I get that they played characters, but it just seems odd how even the actors who played the characters exist in this universe as rappers. I don’t recall the Friday movies making reference to Ice Cube albums or ads with Craig present. In one scene, Tray Deee, one of Tha Eastsidaz and also one of Snoop’s boys from the DPG, was even referred to by his stage name and was acting as a character in this film. So he was basically playing himself and hanging out with a few moronic gangbangers? I didn’t understand it either.

Another thing about the soundtrack, and this is a minor spoiler here, is that in the credits, the video of “Bad Intentions” from Dre and Knoc-Turn’al was shown. It was an uncensored version, by the way, and the actual censored version was an extra on the DVD.

There were also some cameos by Ludacris, Pauly Shore, Shaquille O’Neal, and Xzibit. Also, one of the female characters was played by Truth Hurts, a singer who was on Dre’s label, Aftermath, at the time, but was credited by her real name, Shari Watson. One small note, but there was an appearance by Shawn “Solo” Fonteno, who is best known for playing Franklin Clinton in Grand Theft Auto V. He played Slim’s right-hand man. I also must add that DJ Pooh was the DJ for the West Coast Classics station in GTA V as well. This movie came out 12 years before that game did, but I just thought I’d mention that.

Anyway, this is not a good film, but I don’t hate it. I remember people had told me that it was not good when it came out, especially because I wanted to see it in theaters. According to some sources, it didn’t do well. It was shot on a $7 million budget but only made $10 million in the box office. I wonder if that was domestically. The first time I watched it was when I rented it when it came out on DVD. I had bought the DVD for this film much later and I had recently found it after having lost it. This film is more or less a time-waster or a movie that you can have on as background noise while doing other tasks. It is not a bad way to spend a boring Saturday or Sunday or any other day-off for that matter when you have nothing to do. You can do better but you can do a lot worse, too. I think it is mostly “meh,” if bad in some areas, but then again, a much funnier movie came out a month after this that starred rappers, which I will cover soon.

NEXT UP: HOW HIGH.

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Uncategorized

Other Christmas rap songs and Chronic commercials.

Hello, being that Christmas is near, and I mean NEAR, I decided to do a piece on a couple of Christmas rap songs that I like listening to around this time. I also want to touch on commercials for The Chronic, which came out in December of 1992. There are two songs that I will talk about, and they are “It’s The Holidaze” from Westside Connection and “Merry Muthaphuckkin’ Xmas” from Eazy-E, along with other Ruthless artists from that time. Now why on earth did I not do a review on the “Friday After Next” soundtrack instead, or even a review on Eazy’s EP, “5150: Home 4 Tha Sick”? Well I don’t own the “Friday After Next” soundtrack and if I get my hands on it, I will only do it around Christmas-time considering that film took place during the holidays. As for “5150,” I plan to do that one in the future. So without further ado, here are the songs.

NOTE: None of these videos are mine.

I have to say that the Eazy-E song is hilarious because it’s a total parody of Christmas songs with a bunch of violent, drug and sexual content added into the mix. One part that had always cracked me up was the spoof of “My Mom Kissing Santa Claus.” Same with Eazy’s bit when he spoofed “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Also, I later learned that a Will.i.am and Apl.De.App from Black Eyed Peas were once signed to Ruthless Records, but under different names. They were initially known as The Atban Klann and had recorded an unreleased album for Ruthless during that time. Unlike “High Fo’ Xmas,” this song is THE definition of a Christmas gangsta rap song. It is definitely not family-friendly, but it is good for a laugh, especially around the holiday season.

As for “It’s The Holidaze,” I remember watching this video many times throughout the years as it has become my own personal Christmas tradition to listen to it around this time of the year. I like how in the video with each verse, they all have the different color schemes that go with Christmas. Ice Cube’s verse has it all white, WC’s verse is all green and Mack 10’s verse is all red. Also, I noticed how the beats transitioned a bit to go with the flows of each rapper. My personal favorite verse of the song was WC’s.

Now here comes another part that is a little unrelated, but it goes with the holidays.

I know that Dr. Dre had released “The Chronic” during the holiday season of 1992, but what cracks me up about these ads is the Christmas tree looking like it was made entirely of hemp. Also, one of the ads had a female voice-over say “Dr. Dre’s got the chronic, so take a hit.” I really wonder where these ads were seen. I would only guess that they were mainly shown on The Box, MTV (When they still aired videos) and probably BET. Hey, at least Death Row knew what they were doing with their advertising during those days. It feels kind of dated now seeing album ads done that way, but it’s still fun to see.

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