Rap Movie Reviews

Movie Review – All Eyez on Me

Year of Release: 2017

Production Company: Summit Entertainment/Morgan Creek Productions/Program Pictures/Codeblack Films

It must be said: there is no denying that Tupac Shakur has maintained his popularity throughout the years, even more than two decades after his untimely demise. His deep-in-though lyrics really touched the minds and hearts of not just hip-hop fans, but also other people who have struggled in the things that were related to his music. It was apparent that a biopic would be made about the fallen rap star.

“All Eyez on Me” is the third rap biopic to be released theatrically, following 2009’s “Notorious” and 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton.” With the cultural impact that Pac had on the masses, there was no doubt that a biopic should be released in theaters.

However, unlike SOC, it’s sad to say that AEOM doesn’t have the best production value or even storytelling that SOC had.

The first thing that must be noted is that Demetrius Shipp Jr not only has a strong resemblance to Pac, but I have to give him credit for trying in his debut role. But I still had some issues with the film.

WARNING: There may be spoilers ahead.

The thing that was distracting about the film is that there was no real flow to the storytelling. The movie in a nutshell was mainly that Pac was interviewed by a journalist who was covering his life story. It talked about how Pac was brought up by his mother, who was a black panther and how he ended up starting off as an actor before becoming a rapper. Also, it showed a bit of his friendship with Jada Pinkett. So it talked about how he was first discovered by Digital Underground. I have to hand it to the casting director for casting the guy who played Shock G, as he looked so much like him and even had some of his mannerisms. Anyway, then it showed sequences filming certain scenes from movies like “Juice” and “Above The Rim.” I really wonder what the point of those scenes were. Yes, everyone knows that Pac was an actor as well, but I didn’t find any of that to be crucial to the story. I will say that I didn’t mind that those bits were recreated with some people playing the actors whom he shared those scenes with. I wonder if some scenes in that when he filmed “Poetic Justice,” “Gridlock’d,” and “Gang Related” were done but just left on the cutting room floor. I wonder about the actors who played Janet Jackson, Tim Roth, and Jim Belushi respectively, because the guy who was supposed to be Omar Epps looked nothing like him. The same could be said about Leon, the guy who played Pac’s character’s brother in ATR.

Another thing that I noticed was that clips of some music videos were recreated in some sequences like the video to Digital Underground’s “Same Song,” as well as “I Get Around.” Not to mention certain interviews in which every single word and mannerism were done to recreate them. As well as certain pictures that were shot, like the one with him and Faith Evans, and the infamous snapshot of him with Suge Knight right before the shooting in Vegas.

Of course, the film touched on the sexual assault charge that Pac was jailed for, as well as what led to his beef with Biggie. Speaking of whom, I noticed that the guy who played Biggie in “Notorious” was the same actor who played him in this film. I didn’t mind it, as Jamal Woolard is a rapper himself and had to use his prowess for rapping in a scene.

Then came when Pac joined Death Row Records. I am well aware of a lot of terrible and shady stuff that happened within that label, but certain sequences really made the film take it to a different level. It almost felt like I was watching a different movie. For example, during a scene at a dinner, when Suge Knight was about to confront someone, all of a sudden some ominous music started playing and then showed that he, along with other guys, started to torture this guy. In a way, I get that it was to show that Suge was a scumbag and a dangerous man, but that part made me think that I was watching a gangster movie at that moment. Same with when Suge and some other guys took some guy into a room and jumped him.

Another thing that was distracting was the guy who played Snoop Dogg. I actually wondered if Snoop lent his voice to dub the actor who played him. It sounded just like him that it could have been a dub.

Anyway, also, at that point, it talked about his romance with Kidada Jones, whom Pac was engaged to around the time of his death. That part felt shoehorned in, same with the bit of Jada Pinkett confronting Pac, which led to an alleged falling out between the two (More on this later). Same with how it showed the falling out between Snoop and Pac, and then came Vegas, and you know the rest. Oh, and I noticed that the real security footage from the casino beat-down that took place that very night was used. So it didn’t seem like he had to reenact that bit.

End Spoilers.

As I had stated before, I had no problem with Shipp’s portrayal of Tupac, as I can see that he tried his hardest to play the role. I also have no problem with some inaccuracies as I had noticed some of them in SOC. Around the time of its release, Jada Pinkett had noted on Twitter about how there was inaccuracy in the film, like how Pac read her a poem, or her having attended any of his shows. But the main problem I had is that it just jumped around from one sequence to another. It could be argued that it was because Pac was being interviewed and had stories to show and tell, but it still didn’t feel like what happened after was very consistent.

I really wonder if Lionsgate is going to put out an extended cut later on with a little more footage or at least have it edited better than what was shown in the final product. I can’t say that I liked or loved the film, but I am just curious because of so many things that I would like to see. I really wonder if there was some footage of reenactments of when he shot his other films and music videos.

Overall, I very much preferred “Straight Outta Compton.” It’s been years since I have seen “Notorious,” but I may need to revisit that one. I really can’t give this film a pass.

2/5

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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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Album Review: Christmas on Death Row

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Year: 1996

Label: Death Row Records/Interscope Records

Track Listing:

  1. Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto – Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Daz Dillinger, Bad Azz, and Tray Deee
  2. Christmas Song – Danny Boy
  3. I Wish – Tha Dogg Pound
  4. Silver Bells – Michel’le
  5. Peaceful Christmas – Danny Boy
  6. Christmas in the Ghetto – O.F.T.B. (Operation From The Bottom)
  7. Silent Night – B.G.O.T.I., 6 Feet Deep, and Guess
  8. Be Thankful – Nate Dogg feat. Butch Cassidy
  9. On This Glorious Day – 816
  10. Frosty The Snowman – 6 Feet Deep
  11. O Holy Night – B.G.O.T.I.
  12. Party 4 Da Homies – Sean Barney Thomas feat. J-Flexx
  13. White Christmas – Guess
  14. This Christmas – Danny Boy
  15. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – 6 Feet Deep
  16. Christmas Everyday – Guess

It is now December and before I had started this blog, I had planned on doing a review on “Christmas on Death Row,” which was, as you would guess, a Christmas-themed album released by Death Row Records. Not just that, I just realized that today was the 20-year anniversary since its release, so what better way than to kick off this month than to review this album, especially on its anniversary?

Before I get into the album, let me just give some input on the deal regarding this album. Regarding the Death Row label, anybody who had listened to rap at any point in their lives would know what the contents of the music from this label consisted of, whether they involved drugs, violence, sex, misogyny, you get the picture. I will admit that when I was 10 years old, when I had heard about a Christmas album from Death Row coming out, I chuckled a bit. It just seemed a bit off because of what I was used to hearing from them, whether it was from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, etc. Hell, the album refreshed my memory about four or five years later when Death Row started re-releasing their albums and all the artworks had said “Digitally Remastered” on the cover. However, being that I was a teen then, I remember going on Amazon and looking at the listing and seeing a lot of negative feedback for this album. I was a naive kid then so I assumed that the album would suck. Then came when I reached my 20’s and the curiosity kicked in again.

I looked up the album again and finally listened to some samples and thought “Hey, maybe I would give this a shot.” I later bought it online and noticed that the copy that I got was the original 1996 release. Which I think was better considering how I liked on the “Parental Advisory” label, it had a red bow on top of it, unlike the 2001 re-release. Also, I will get to the part about the PA label.

Anyway, being that a lot of people would assume that this is a rap album that has people rapping about Christmas mixed in with violent content and other no-so-family friendly content, I decided that I would do the rap songs first before I go into anything else.

The song that kicked off this album was “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” from Snoop, Daz, Bad Azz, Nate Dogg, and Tray Deee. It is an interesting song considering how each guy talked about their experiences around Christmas time and as always, Nate Dogg (RIP) delivered a solid hook to the song. Plus, the song had a laid-back beat as it sampled “Do Your Thing” from the late Isaac Hayes. It’s a good song that was accompanied with an even better video. You just have to see it to believe it.

The thing that got me about “I Wish” from Tha Dogg Pound were the lyrics from Daz and Kurupt about how they wish they had love around the holidays. It was refreshing to hear them in a vulnerable state talking about how it was hard for them around the holidays. It had a good beat to go with it, produced by Daz, and also a chorus from a female singer, who I have trouble identifying.

And finally, in regards to the rap tracks of the album, we get to “Christmas in the Ghetto” from O.F.T.B.. I am mostly unfamiliar with these guys as I only know their songs from this album, the “Above The Rim” soundtrack, the “Gridlock’d” soundtrack, and the “Gang Related” soundtrack. I know that they had an album before signing with Death Row and later an album album on Death Row that was released way after the label’s heyday (When the label was seized by Wideawake and released a lot of their unreleased albums), both of which I may check out sometime down the line. Anyway, regarding this track, I have to give these guys credit for rapping about how Christmas was hard for them in the ghetto, but it really didn’t need the beat for the song as it was best suited for any other song. It’s one of my least favorite songs from the album, despite the lyrics and content, both of which also could have been better. Also, believe it or not, this song was the reason that this album was slapped with the Parental Advisory label. Yes, that is right, this song actually had profanity on there. Believe it or not, “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” and “I Wish” had no profanity in them at all. All three songs had minor drug references as they mentioned weed here and there, but that was about it, but the other songs were more appropriate to listen to around people.

That is about it for the rap tracks (Well, there is one other track with a rap verse that I will get to). What? You thought that this would be all rap? Well, that is not the case, because Death Row also had a lot of R&B acts on the label. That’s right, the majority of the album is R&B, which is not a bad thing. In fact, R&B works better for an album like this. First, I will touch on the original tracks before I touch on the traditional tracks.

“Peaceful Christmas” is one of three songs that Danny Boy had done for this album. This is actually a more original track as it isn’t one of those Christmas songs that you hear all the time during the holidays. In fact, some of the lyrics made reference to a few traditional Christmas songs. Danny Boy shined in this track with his soothing vocals, but regarding the beat of the song it gives off a rather dated feel. This album was released in the 1990’s, so it had a 90’s R&B feel. The beat reminded me a bit of “Pretty Brown Eyes” from Mint Condition. If you can look past that, the song is solid.

“Be Thankful,” on the other hand, is a very relaxing song to hear from Nate Dogg, along with Butch Cassidy, who provided additional vocals. Nate’s vocals didn’t come in until 30 seconds into the track as it started with an instrumental intro. The soulful vocals were strong with the two singers and the song’s message really stands out too. It had a nice soothing beat, too.

I was unsure if “On This Glorious Day” was a traditional track, but it seemed like it wasn’t as it had more of a holiday feel than it a religious feel from a more common song of the same name. This song was from 816, which I suppose was an R&B group on Tha Row at the time but never came out with anything new. The thing that I also must point out is that the intro to this song was also used in the intro bit for the video to “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto.” Anyway, I have to say that this is actually a solid track. The beat and the lyrics can really get you in the mood for Christmas. It’s actually a standout, in my opinion.

However, the last of the original R&B tracks left a lot more to be desired with “Party 4 Da Homies” from Sean Barney Thomas. The beat was a little too fast-paced and a bit out of place, too. It was mostly a song about setting up a Christmas party with the guys and having a bunch of women over. J-Flexx provided the rap verse for this song, which was also a bit mixed in some areas, as in he rapped about partying in the majority and then at the end said to be thankful for what you have in life. I get that the final bit of the rap verse was to get people in the spirit, but it didn’t help. Also, the chorus was rather repetitive. This song was actually another one on here that I didn’t care for.

The rest of the album had covers of traditional Christmas songs. The main thing that I noticed is that a lot of them were done by the same artists. What I mean is that you had multiple songs by one artist, and other songs done by a group, and then it happened with another few.

“Silent Night” featured an ensemble of B.G.O.T.I. (Which stood for “Bad Girlz of The Industry), 6 Feet Deep, and Guess. I have no idea who 6 Feet Deep and Guess are, but I mostly know of B.G.O.T.I. from their contributions to the “Gridlock’d” and “Gang Related” soundtracks. That is about it. Anyway, this version actually had a gospel-like feel to it. I can’t complain about the vocals from the singers on this song, but I think it was a little too long. That was about it in terms of complaints. But it’s still good. Also, this song had a video to go with it.

As for the other covers, I wasn’t too big on 6 Feet Deep’s version “Frosty The Snowman” as it had the feel of a boy band covering it, but I’ll listen to it if it comes on. The same could be said about “White Christmas” from Guess, which feels dated now as it has that 90’s R&B feel. It had a unique spin on it, but it’s not too bad.

However, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from 6 Feet Deep was actually a pretty good song from them, but it did not need the interlude in the middle of the song with one of the singers talking about the group. So that docked a few points from the song.

Guess’s version of the Smokey Robinson song, “Christmas Everyday” actually surprised me a bit when I first heard it. It definitely has a more urbanized touch to it and the singers really did a good job in trying to do Robinson’s vocal style in it. I cannot complain about this one.

The other two Danny Boy tracks, “The Christmas Song” and “This Christmas,” were more of a bright spot as he had provided soothing vocals and both songs had quite a jazzy beat to them. Both songs stood out and I will also say the same thing about “O Holy Night” from B.G.O.T.I.. Those ladies really gave it their all on their vocals.

Michel’le had only one track on here and that was her version of “Silver Bells,” which was pretty straightforward and she provided some great vocals like always. It was a pretty good track from her. I don’t understand why she didn’t have any other songs on here.

Overall, I have to give Death Row credit for trying to do a holiday album. This album is not bad, by any means. It’s actually decent, even though there are a couple of songs that I did not like, and a few that I wasn’t crazy about but would still listen to. It’s definitely not a gangsta rap album like one would think. It’s kind of funny to see the Death Row logo decked out in Santa gear on the album cover. It also must be noted that with the exception of “Christmas In The Ghetto,” this album is appropriate to listen to around people. So don’t be afraid to blast it while doing stuff (Though skip that track if you must, otherwise just burn a copy without that song). Also, Christmas albums from hip-hop labels are nothing new. In fact, I will review “High Fo’ Xmas” very soon, as in West Coast Bad Boyz. Stay tuned.

Also, check out the artwork that was used on the inside of the booklet. It’s a nice touch how the artist put the wings and halo on Tupac, because this album was released after he was killed. I wonder if he hadn’t died if he would have contributed to it.

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Top 5 Tracks:

  1. Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto
  2. I Wish
  3. Be Thankful
  4. On This Glorious Day
  5. Silver Bells
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Teaser trailer of “All Eyez on Me” and my take on it.

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Hello, readers. I usually try to do my posts on a weekly basis, but because I just recently found out that a teaser trailer for the 2Pac biopic, I thought that I share this with people and also my take on it.

I know that this is only the teaser and in the months to come prior to its release, there will be more shown in there. However, all I could say is that I hope that this movie is good. I was impressed by “Straight Outta  Compton” when it came out last summer, but I still haven’t revisited it, not to mention that I have not seen the director’s cut of it yet. I also remember seeing “Notorious” a long time ago, but it’s been more than seven years. I may need to watch that again soon and maybe review it on here.

All I can say is that I can’t wait until November when this comes out. Peace!

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