Ava DuVernay's hip-hop documentary "This Is the Life" is a reclamation project of sorts for a cash-poor but influential West Coast movement that sprouted from the Good Life, a South L.A. health food store.
In the early 1990s it played open-mike host to young, innovative MCs who -- as long as they didn't curse or lean on the paintings, as nurturing proprietor B. Hall demanded -- found an uncommon freedom to bend the rules of rhyme, rhythm and subject matter.
Legendary collectives Freestyle Fellowship and Jurassic 5 grew out of these jam-packed Thursday nights.
The self-mythologizing is pungent, if good-natured, but the many smiling testifiers are truly engaging. R. Kain Blaze, Abstract Rude, Myka Nyne, Medusa, Ganjah K and nearly two dozen others, including Good Life regular DuVernay, lay down a rich narrative of praise, clarification, brother-and-sisterhood and the birth of a cool.
DuVernay's filmmaking beat might be routine -- talking head, talking head, archival footage, repeat -- but her homage to this unsung sonic flowering is still soulful.