This Is the Life

Ava DuVernay

BY Thomas QuinlanPublished May 7, 2008

Winner of the audience award at the Pan-African Film Festival in L.A. and the Reel World Film Festival in Toronto, documentary film This Is the Life hopes to expose the hip-hop movement that grew out of the Thursday night open mic at small South Central, L.A. health food store the Good Life Cafe.

First-time director Ava DuVernay, a participant at the weekly event as one half of female rap duo Figures of Speech, was able to offer more insight and attain better interviews than any outsider possibly could. Through rare live footage and talking head interviews from the likes of Abstract Rude, Myka Nine and P.E.A.C.E. of Freestyle Fellowship, Cut Chemist and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5, Pigeon John, 2Mex, Medusa and more, Ava spotlights a positive hip-hop movement intent on developing new styles and flows created under a strict set of rules (such as "no swearing allowed”), bringing together a disparate range of MCs, from hardcore street rappers Chillin Villain Empire to Christian MC Pigeon John.

This is the Life shows the rise of underground champions Freestyle Fellowship and Jurassic 5, credits Ganjah K with the whole chronic craze prior to Dr. Dre or Cypress Hill, reveals P.E.A.C.E.’s split personality disorder (three of them are women!) and claims that both Ice Cube and Bone Thugs & Harmony later adopted flows created by Good Life MCs. And despite all that, fighting for the biggest highlight is Fat Joe getting booed off the stage — and even without any live footage graffiti artist Mear’s chalk drawing recreation is a suitable, and stylish, substitute.

With the media’s tendency to spotlight the negatives of hip-hop, it’s refreshing when something like this comes along to put a positive spin on the culture. The fact that it happens to be a well-made documentary without a wasted moment makes it even better. This is a must-see for hip-hop fans.
(Forward Movement)

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