RapReviews DVD Reviews

[It's Not a Game!!] Starvin: It's Not a Game!!
Label: VTO Productions

Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon

DMX and Donald Trump might seem to be as different as day and night on the surface, but the one thing that they both have in common is the hustle. We all have our own hustle. It's how you make ends meet, how you make your grip, how you put money in your wallet and food on the table. If you're alive, you're hungry, and the more hungry you are the more you'll hustle. That's not to say someone who is already a success, who is living and eating good, can't still be creatively inspired. Some might be inspired by the fear they won't eat good if they don't keep hustling. Some might be inspired by the desire to live even better by improving their hustle game. Some will want more status, some just want to keep the status quo. Either way those who've made it need to look over their shoulder and see those who are starving, because for them it's not a game, it's all about survival. They'll either make a spot, or they'll take YO' spot. You can't tell somebody starving that there's enough to go around for everyone - if so then why are they starving? They're hungry for that bread, the kind you can eat and the kind you can fold and put in your pocket. Christopher Walken said it best in the movie "King of New York," playing Frank White: "You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street! Now it's my turn."

Our mack in making the movie documentary "Starvin: It's Not a Game!!" is named Fat Rob - what irony. As the main menu for this DVD plays and you see him walking around the streets of Oakland, you definitely don't get the impression he missed many meals, although he's by no means extra large on a scale akin to Big Pun, may he rest in peace. Still the "starving" of Fat Rob is definitely going to be his hunger for independent underground artists coming out of Oaktown to be successful and make a little scrilla. Clicking play on the main menu opens us with graphics for Fat Inc Entertainment and VTO Productions. Call me crazy, but shouldn't that have been Fat Entertainment Incorporated instead? Seems to be ass-backwards. We move into the main presentation, presented in cooperation with the City of Oakland, as we are treated to a collage of the sites in East Oakland as our protagnoist says the catchphrase "starvin is not a game" repeatedly over the background music. The pictures paint a stark contrast between abject poverty and people driving big cars, the kind of sight you can find in any hood anywhere in America. We're introduced to a lot of the independent artists on the come up through this DVD with quick edits, but you can also find their music on the enclosed bonus CD. We are then treated to an interview contacted by Charleszetta (f'real, that's her name) with one of the artists Black Tone, whose hustle includes a DVD of his own where he walks around Oakland with a faux British accent looking for "cheek" (fine booty bitches).

As the video moves on Fat Rob steps into the spotlight, taking us to meet the founders of the Oaklandish gallery - Freddy Mac and Bobby Peru. Frankly an art gallery with a couple of yuppies who say they "grew up in a middle class neighborhood" in Oakland is not quite what I expected from this DVD, and hearing them try to justify their street cred is a little bit ridiculous. Eventually I just have to fast forward through their whole segment. Eventually we get back to Fat Rob, who introduces us to Ray Luv as he talks about the "Black Wall Street" hustle of making your own albums and movies independently. We go back to Charleszetta interviewing another artist named Tip Toe, who produces tracks independently and definitely spits the most game about the industry and the hustle of anybody we've seen thus far. The movie switches back to outdoors footage, this time of a rapper named Lil' Al out talking and freestyle rapping in the parking lot. As a self-confessed fan of Cali's indie rap scene and the Bay Area artists, I'm a bit shocked that so far Ray Luv is the only name I recognize. Either the artists profiled on this DVD are HELLA underground, or the entire scene has changed overnight in 2005. It's probably a little of both. We're introduced to Gary Archer, the first interesting white guy in this production thus far. I know a lot of people ain't gonna want to hear it, but what he spits about the music business (and he strongly emphasizes the word BUSINESS) is real. To summarize - just because you've got money doesn't mean you're a label, and just because you call yourself a CEO doesn't mean you're a label. You've got to have a filing cabinet, a computer, and some people on staff - you've got to spend the money on your BUSINESS and not on looking good or flossing big cars. In general that lesson is not lost on Bay Area artists, because in my experience their hustle game is tighter than almost anywhere else in the country. Other cats need to take heed of how they do it.

The general pattern of the video has at this point been established. We move from on the fly camera footage of struggling artists getting their 15 seconds of fame and spitting the "starvin is not a game" catch phrase, followed by quick edits of various people talking, followed by Charleszetta interviewing somebody, followed by Fat Rob doing his thang or taking us to meet someone else who can spit game. The order of the elements are juggled a little bit, but they're the same elements rinse wash repeat throughout the rest of this DVD. A little more variance would have been more interesting. We do occasionally get live performance footage or a low budget video (I mean lower production values than you'd see on BET After Dark) but there's not near enough of this material. Also there's a tendency to "edit for editing's sake" at points in this presentation, cutting people off in the middle of sentences or freestyles just to show how flawlessly the editor can stitch two different scenes together. Yes the video quality is good, and yes it's obvious the people behind this DVD either own or rented some high quality equipment, but the mark of true skill is knowing when NOT to edit footage. Just because you can doesn't mean you should, especially on a DVD where you are not pressed for time like you would be editing a spot that's gon' be on TV.

I'm not too worried about the artists seen in this docu-movie, they're mostly talented and going to make a name for themselves one way or another. It's the producer and the director who may end up "starving" just because they overdid it trying to be too cute with the material, making it less professional as a result and limiting the appeal it will have other than to hardcore fans of Cali and the Bay. Getting a few more big names to be in this video wouldn't have hurt either - the only ones who people not familiar with the scene may recognize are Malika (from MTV's "Making the Band 3"), Richie Rich, and Allen Anthony from Roc-A-Fella Records. It would have been nice to actually hear more from Rob himself about his own hustle, or his reasons for putting this DVD together, and to maybe limit it to featuring fewer artists so there could be more in depth focus on the ones who remain. Bonus features include a chapter called "Uncle Frank" which is about Frank Herrera from Showcase Magazine, which involves more needless and unnecessary showing off of the editing equipment and video wipes, as well as his anti-download viewpoint which itself is pretty unnecessary. The chapter entitled "Hungry?" is just a single screen with some background music, showing you where on the web to find out more about the artists featured or to buy a "Starvin" t-shirt. That's great but to get from being starving to living good you've got to come correct, and this movie only does half the time.

Content: 5 of 10 Layout: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10

Originally posted: July 12, 2005
source: www.RapReviews.com

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