Ava Duvernay’s documentary This Is the Life is so immediately and fully engrossing that it meets its ambitious goals for the viewer — to illuminate a brief, paradoxically undervalued but globally influential L.A.-based music scene while broadening the accepted parameters of hip-hop — and without feeling lectured to. It’s rare that being schooled so deeply is so pleasurable. The Good Life hip-hop scene started in the early ’90s in South-Central L.A.’s Good Life health-food store, run by neighborhood stalwart Bea Hall and her son. The duo wanted to create a venue for local (soon citywide) youth to express their musical creativity in a safe, positive atmosphere. Their most famous rule: No profanity allowed. Soon, a movement was afoot that spawned hip-hop iconoclasts like Pigeon John, Abstract Rude, Medusa, Volume 10 and the venerated Freestyle Fellowship, all making some of the most artful, experimental rap music ever. Duvernay’s film also persuasively argues that mainstream artists such as Ice Cube lifted more than a little from the ground being broken. This Is the Life vaults into the upper echelons of must-see hip-hop documentaries: It’s smart, informative, and hugely important historically, filled with rare performance footage that still crackles. The underground-icon talking heads (shot in their homes, against freeway backdrops) wax poetic, philosophical and enthusiastic. “Something like that couldn’t happen in any other city, in any other part of the world, at any other time,” says Cut Chemist. “It was perfect.” (Downtown Independent)
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