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Tracing hip-hop roots in South L.A.

FILM REVIEW

A documentary by Ava DuVernay examines the '90s influential West Coast movement.

March 11, 2009|Robert Abele
  • Ava DuVernay?s documentary ?This is the Life? is a reclamation project of sorts for a cash-poor but influential West Coast movement (pictured, Medusa).
Ava DuVernay?s documentary ?This is the Life? is a reclamation project… (The DuVernay Agency )

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.

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'This Is the Life'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: At the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-1033

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