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[Backstage] Backstage
Label: Dimension Home Video

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

So what would it be like to have an all-access pass behind the scenes to one of the biggest hip-hop concerts to tour the country in the last 20 years? And how would groups of artists like Def Jam, the Roc-A-Fella click and the Ruff Ryders crew manage to put their large egos in check (not to mention their drama starting posses) to make such a tour successful? The answer to both questions is to be found in the movie "Backstage," recently released on DVD by Dimension Home Video. To be honest I was more familiar with the mixtape of the same name hosted by DJ Clue, a marginally entertaining compilation with the minor hit "In the Club" by Beanie Sigel. If the film was even in theatres, it was probably an arthouse release. I'm not haterizing or trying to knock the hustle, but it just doesn't seem like a documentary about a rap tour would be playing on as many screens as "Star Wars" or "Gladiator."

This release as such presents the first opportunity for a lot of the public to ever see why they needed a mixtape soundtrack in the first place, let alone if it's worth porting to home video. Speaking for this reviewer, the film is definitely the more interesting of the two. Most of the time when you see a hip-hop "documentary" DVD in tends to follow a pretty cliche formula - open with the artist performing, show the hood where they come from, air a music video, do an interview to reveal part of the performer's personality. Rinse, lather, repeat. 15 to 20 chapters of that formula, with the order occasionally changed up, with the end result being more or less entertaining largely based on how charismatic the artist is and how good the music videos were.

Thankfully "Backstage" lives up to the name and really does go behind the scenes of the famous "Hard Knock Life" tour. For those of us who aren't connected enough in the industry to have a behind-the-scenes V.I.P. pass for a live event or concert, this is as close as you'll ever get. In this movie you see everything that happens - good, bad, and ugly. There are some funny-ass fucking moments - rappers fucking with their fellow artists, stage hands, even the people filming the documentary. Alcohol and weed are consumed in large quantities - in fact you'll watch Ja Rule split and roll a blunt on the spot at his hotel room after the show. And speaking of "after," that's where a lot of the bad and ugly comes in. If you hear stories about groupies, if you think you've even SEEN groupies on other hip-hop DVD's, these are some shameless-ass hoes. The camera actually follows one all the way into the men's restroom, as the rapper assures her "this is for the movie, you gonna be a star" right before he unzips his pants and the girl lowers her head... and the movie doesn't even need to show us the conclusion to THAT scene.

Personal moments can be found throughout the presentation, despite the hectic nature of the tour. Memphis Bleek talks about losing one of his best friends who got shot over $300 in a dice game, and how that same day he said "if anything happens to me, take care of my little girl." Damon Dash shows us his tattoos for his mom, his son, and his record label - "everything I love is on my arms." You also see that Dash takes it personally when Def Jam takes credit for the things that Roc-A-Fella is doing on the tour, to the point that he gets offended when Def Jam prints up leather jackets for Roc artists with Def Jam's logo. "We don't want to get overshadowed by fucking Def Jam's name, by Russell Simmons, and by your logo. I was guaranteed it wouldn't and it's exactly the opposite!" Dash admits people think of him as an asshole, but you can't deny that he's looking out for his artists or his label when other people are trying to take their success and claim it as their own. The film's director seems to be making the same point for him when he does alternating shots of Def Jam's plush "tour bus" and the broken down bus without working electronics some of the other MC's are riding in. Still even Ed Lover is impressed by Dash's game, noting how Jay-Z and his co-horts own their own shit instead of being owned by the music business. You see Pain in Da Ass clowning around with his homies and doing impressions of famous movie gangsters. Families, kids, friends, label executives, girls, wifey, hoochie-mamas and people who are too high or drunk to notice any of it - it all goes on backstage.

Ultimately the greatest thing about this DVD is that even though it's filmed on a concert tour, it's not a movie OF a concert. It's not just a recording of one performance in one venue, from start to finish. A lot of footage from different shows and cities is spliced together to show just what the life is like, with interviews from artists talking about each other and giving them props on their skills, play boxing backstage, playing dice games - a LOT of dice games - and just generally having fun at all times. There's a lot of love being given, but the tour can't go off without SOME hitches. Party promoters want their plugs, groupies want rappers to get in their panties, people want to know why they did or didn't get featured, it always starts but it never ends. It's not hard to see why DMX openly admits to Chuck D at one point that he hates it - he loves performing but he hates the stress and headaches. Still the vibe you get on the whole is a lot of artists who are grateful for the opportunity to be on what was the biggest all-rap tour ever conceived of to date at the point this was filmed. Exhausted, tired of the monotony of the bus, hotel, venue, after party, hotel, and right back on the bus again - yet they do it again and again. They work hard, and they play hard - paintball gun wars are the order of the day when these artists need to destress. You'll enjoy the manic madness of the tour, because you already know the artists and songs anyway and that's not what you're paying to see here. You bought the DVD to see what a tour is like "Backstage" and this release definitely provides it. Other than a theatrical trailer and a few minor options there's not much on the menu, but there doesn't need to be. Bottom line? You'll want to at least rent this, and for under $20 it's worth owning because you will enjoy it again.

Content: 7.5 of 10 Layout: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: May 10, 2005
source: www.RapReviews.com

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