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[Big Fun in the Big Town] Big Fun in the Big Town
Label: Five Day Weekend/VPRO Broadcasting

Author: Emanuel Wallace

Global. International. Worldwide. All of these words have been used in reference to the the art form of hip-hop music. It was supposed to be nothing more than a mere passing noisy fad back in the 70s and early 80s, but now it's an instrumental tool that has become a major point of influence when it comes to fashion, politics and the world's economy as a whole. I'm not sure if Dutch filmmaker Bram Van Splunteren ever foresaw hip-hop getting to its current status in the world, but he saw something. After hearing The Beastie Boys' (RIP MCA) "She's On It," he was convinced that rap music was the "rock music of the future." In his native Amsterdam, amid resistance from many, he would scour the streets for imports of the latest and greatest in rap at the time to play on his radio show. This included Sugar Hill Records joints like "The Message" and "Rapper's Delight." He would also play jams from KRS-ONE and Schooly D. Splunteren's friends were less than impressed by the American rappers and their materialistic bravado calling it "guys boasting about themselves using stupid drum computers."

Bram received the opportunity to help change that perception when Dutch station VPRO Television commissioned him to produce six music-based documentaries and gave him carte blanche as far as choosing the subjects. Naturally, hip-hop was his first choice and he decided to head to the place where everything started, New York City. Armed with a three-man crew and a list of contacts facilitated by Rush Artist Management & Def Jam's Director of Publicity, Bill Adler, Van Splunteren hit the ground running and shot the documentary over six days in the Fall of 1986.

Nearly 25 years after the documentary aired in Holland, the film was finally screened in New York at the Maysles Film Institute in 2010 and for whatever reason, the film has not been commercially available until now. Splunteren invites us to take a journey with him over these few days back in '86, where greats like Grandmaster Flash, RUN-DMC, MC Shan, Biz Markie and LL Cool J, among others reigned supreme. It's time to have some Big Fun in the Big Town.

The documentary opens with Van Splunteren in a hotel room doing a bit of last-minute research while what appears to be the 1986 Primetime Emmy Awards plays in the background as the still-hilarious "Golden Girls" picked up an award for something. He soon shuns the television for the radio and the late Mr. Magic's Rap Attack show on WBLS. Also visible is a young Marley Marl cutting up a record as they head to a break. The documentary moves quickly at times, so at some points the action will go from MC Shan performing a few bars from "The Bridge" and within a matter of moments we're riding a train to meet up with Grandmaster Flash in the South Bronx as he explains the difference in his turntablism versus just watching a deejay spin a record and do nothing else. He believes that it's boring, but on the contrary, when he goes to work on the wheels of steel, everyone ends up watching him. He goes on to explain that he needed to create a party vibe to get them off of what he was doing, and that's where the emcee came in to play.

Next, we find ourselves at Harry Truman High School and talking with a music teacher who has embraced hip-hop as a viable musical outlet for students in the Bronx that in most cases did not have access to expensive music lessons or even music programs in their former schools. In the mid-80s, Doug E. Fresh was a god amongst men in Harlem and here we find him surrounded by a neighborhood of admirers as he shows off his talent before giving a few thoughts about the then-current state of rap music. He likened rap music's plight for acceptance to the struggle of rock & roll before them. He also touches on how hip-hop speaks for the youth and how the youngsters of the day aren't able to relate to some people that are supposed to be their idols. Overall, his main point is to have something to believe in and show the world that they aren't as stupid and ignorant as some may think.

Moving from one beat-boxing legend to another, Biz Markie and Roxanne Shante hit the stage for a moment. The short set closes out with Shante spitting about how crack is wack and it segues into the next scene. Van Splunteren spent a lot of time focusing on the new epidemic of the time period, crack-cocaine. He visited a neighborhood that had been ravaged by the drug and asked if the music was responsible for the violence in those neighborhoods and the answer was a resounding "No." The conditions of the neighborhood were attributed to a lack of opportunities, funding and education.

Outside of the Def Jam office, The Mystery Crew raps on the street in hopes of getting a shot at a record deal. Inside, Van Splunteren speaks with Russell Simmons about the artists he represents and he talks about the success of RUN-DMC's first three albums. Cut to DMC showing off his newly purchased Cadillac outside and reiterating the point made earlier by Doug E. Fresh about the gear they choose to wear. We get to see an irritated Run and Jam Master Jay in the studio working with Papa Run on a project. Uncle Rush then goes on about how his artists aren't gimmicky, opposed to some of the acts overseas.

Strolling through a neighborhood in Queens, Van Splunteren walks up to a house and rings the doorbell. An elderly woman answers and Bram asked if LL Cool J lives here and if he can come inside and she obliges. Upon walking in the house, there's a huge gold plaque on the wall in the living room. Now, back outside and walking up the street, Splunteren points out that LL is one of the few artists that perform love raps and asks him why. LL responds by saying that he guesses that the other emcees would rather make hard raps. He breaks down the multiple meanings of "LL" and when asked about the lack of more female emcees, he says that it'll take time for them to become popular but they're coming. Responding to a general belief that rap music is full of machismo and ego, LL counters with the fact that he also shares his daydreams and the like with the ladies. He proclaims that he isn't an egotystical pig, but at the same time questions who would really embrace rapping about being a broke punk who can't fight.

On the contrary, Saliamon El Hadi of the famed Last Poets calls the rap of 1986 nothing more than mere nursery rhymes. He believes that it's all an ego trip that encourages violence and madness rather than uplifting the community. Going back to LL, he says that he's not into rapping about the ghetto and how bad things are because he wants his fans to have fun while they're at a show. He doesn't want to put more pressure and burdens on them.

Things conclude with Van Splunteren making a trip to the Latin Quarter to spend some time with Schooly D, who explains that his style is raw and he says the things that others may be scared to say or not allowed to say. In an almost prophetic matter, he explains how rock & roll wasn't supposed to last but it has endured. He also points out how the powers that be have tried to make rock & roll so "pretty" and he hopes that rap doesn't wind up traveling down the same path.

And this concludes "Big Fun in the Big Town." It's really fascinating to see that most of the artists Van Splunteren decided to showcase in this documentary still have some cultural relevance over 25 years later. To me, it seems like everyone had a feeling that rap would soon be a driving force in the world and they all wanted to be at the forefront of the movement. Sure, there are some issues like violence, perceived egotism and machismo, but as LL Cool J essentially said, it comes with the territory associated with rap music. Nowadays rap music is sectioned off to the point where you can listen to love songs all day and not hear one repeat. Create a Spotify playlist of songs based on "Rapper's Delight" and party all night. Rap music is global now and Bram Van Splunteren knew it way before many of us did. There's not really any special features or anything on the DVD so to speak, but I would say that the video itself IS the special feature. This documentary is an interesting representation of rap music at its core and I recommend it to anyone interesting in the early beginnings of the culture.

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

Originally posted: May 22nd, 2012
source: www.RapReviews.com

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