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[The Graff Life] The Graff Life
Label: DeVol Productions

Author: Emanuel Wallace

It has been said that the four main elements of hip-hop are MCing, DJing, break-dancing, and graffiti writing. I think that each of these elements has been publicly accepted with varying levels of tolerance. To this reviewer, it seems as if graffiti writing bears the brunt of being the least understood of the elements. While on one hand there has been much ado about the lyrics in hip-hop, on the other hand...graffiti is ILLEGAL. While I can understand the idea that vandalism is vandalism regardless of how one attempts to justify it, the film is quick to make a point of how of the lack of funding for programs catering to the youth that choose to express themselves through the art of graffiti forces them into the streets to search for canvasses.

To my surprise, this documentary is focused on the graffiti work in Los Angeles rather than in New York. Within the first few seconds, the viewer is introduced to the narrator that sounds like the young boy from "Shogun Assassin". Every time she talks, it makes me think of GZA's "Liquid Swords". The film presents an seemingly endless stream of artists including rising stars like Green, established veterans like Demon, and legends like Ghost. The documentary takes the viewer inside of crew meetings, group picnics, late-night taggings, and even memorial services for fallen comrades. While the scenery and sounds provided by the BLX Crew are visually and audibly pleasing, there is definitely an agenda at work here.

"The Graff Life" believes that the good that comes from graffiti far outweighs the bad aspects that have been attributed to it. As previously mentioned, the movie mentions the lack of funding for after-school programs and the like. According to the film, funds to clean up graffiti in Los Angeles are going up, while the spending for the youth is steadily declining. The artists assert that they aren't vandals or gang members, but they are merely artists who are trying to express themselves. It gives them "a reason to live", as the narrator puts it. Graffiti has been proven to cross several boundaries including social, economic, and especially racial boundaries. The film makes a great point of this by featuring artists of all colors and creeds. "The Graff Life" comes to a close with an art showing in memory of one of their own who was mistaken for a gang member and killed. The bonus features include a segment about how the graffiti scene has changed over the years, a tribute to the aforementioned OhJae, and a brief look into a MTA Sunday afternoon.

As a person that knows very little about graffiti but appreciates the art of it all, I will say that "The Graff Life" is a quite interesting and informative look into the subculture. There were a few parts that could have been left on the cutting room floor, like the "bitch fights", a "hooker story", and portions of the barbecues, but overall the film was entertaining. It may require more than one viewing to take everything in, but I believe that it's worth it. I'm not sure of how well the "Graffiti Is Art" agenda will go over with the masses, but director Randy DeVol makes a good case for increased tolerance and support for the art of modern day hieroglyphics.

Content: 9 of 10 Layout: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: June 16, 2009
source: www.RapReviews.com

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