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Rappin'
(1985)

Director: Joel Silberg  
Cast:
Mario Van Peebles, Tasia Velenza, Charles Flohe


While there are many different countries and cultures around the world, there can still be found some similarities shared between people. One thing that just about anyone has experienced in their life are defining moments, moments that instantly change your perspective, and maybe even the direction your life is heading. For me, it should be obvious that one thing that changed me was movies. I can't remember the exact first time I saw a movie, but I remember that after seeing a few movies early in my life, I wanted to have a life that revolved around movies. And this web site has managed to give me that dream. Not everybody has a life that's greatly influenced by movies, of course. But I do know one aspect of popular culture that most, if not all people are influenced by while growing up, and that is music. The popular music that one listens to while they are young shapes them in many ways in the years to come. I remember when I was a few years into being an adult and watching A Fistful Of Dollars for the first time, and being blown away by the Ennio Morricone score - it's a big part of why I am so into spaghetti westerns this day. Though when I was a teenager, the top hits of the day were a big influence as well. The first time I heard the Guns n' Roses song Welcome To The Jungle was a milestone. But there were other, less obvious musical moments that stuck with me through the years. When I first heard Weird Al Yankovic, he taught me that there was more ways than one to cover a song.  There was also the time when a female student at my high school lip-synced and danced in front of all the students to Cyndi Lauper's She Bop, seemingly unaware (unlike I) that the song was all about masturbation.

From those songs, you can probably get a rough idea of my age, so I will stop giving you examples of influential songs so that you don't pinpoint the exact figure. But yes, I will admit that I was an '80s youth, growing up during a time of new kinds of music coming out, like new wave. Oh, and rap. But although I grew up during a time when rap was essentially born and evolving, I have to admit that rap never really caught on with me. While to this day I occasionally come across a rap song that I find mildly catchy, I never seek out rap songs, even ones from my youth. Instead, I stick to new wave, pop, and rock songs from the '80s. Why did I never really get into rap? Well, there are several reasons why rap always had little appeal to me. One thing that has annoyed me about rap right from the start is that virtually every rap performer uses a pseudonym. Are they ashamed of their names? Do they think that their rap songs aren't strong enough by themselves, and have to give themselves a tough-sounding name to be accepted by the public? Great performers in the past like James Brown or Michael Jackson never needed to hide behind a false name. (By the way, don't ask me why certain movie reviewers use a pseudonym - that's like comparing apples to oranges.) But the biggest thing about rap that makes me dislike it so much is the content of rap songs. I know not all rap songs are filled with four-lettered words and glorifications of gangsta culture, but quite a few are, and I think that's real ugly. When I listen to a song, I want to be lifted up in spirit. Personally, I think the use of foul language is lazy and desperate, and the constant rapping about disrespectful behavior makes the rapper and his buddies people I wouldn't like to meet in real life.

Now that I have ranted about how much I dislike rap, you are probably confused by now. The question that is in your minds right now is probably around the lines of, "If you hate rap so much, why on earth did you decided to review a movie with the title of Rappin'?" That's a fair Rappin'question, and one that I can give several answers to. The most obvious answer should come from a quick glance at the credits for Rappin', which reveal that it was a movie from the Cannon studio. If you've been a regular reader of this web site, you'll know that I am a fan of Cannon and their output. The second reason I decided to watch Rappin' was that it promised to have what I call "happy rap". That is, early rap music, which was largely free of foul language and dark elements, and seems more sunny and upbeat than the rap music of today. Maybe the style of rap in the movie would be dated... but then again, many people can appreciate and enjoy songs from decades past when styles were very different from today. Anyway, here's the plot: As the movie opens, a young man by the name of John Hood (Peebles, New Jack City) has just been released from prison, and promptly returns to the 'hood where he's reunited with his grandmother and younger brother, as well as the friends he used to hang out with (including Eriq La Salle of the TV show ER, and Kadeem Hardison of the TV show A Different World). Aside from trying to hook back up with his former girlfriend Dixie, John has no immediate plans, but boy, does he love to rap, and with his rap-loving buddies he spends a lot of time wandering the neighborhood while spouting out a rhyme. However, Dixie's current boyfriend Duane - who is also a former friend of John - doesn't look kindly on the return of John, and a rivalry starts between the two. To make matters worse, an evil developer (is there any other kind?) is planning to displace John's friends and neighbors by tearing down the neighborhood.

Well, the truth in advertising laws were followed for once in a movie. With a movie with the name of Rappin', you would expect a movie full of rap, and that is what you do indeed get here. Old school rap, of course, even though the yet-to-be-famous rapper Ice-T makes a cameo appearance midway through the movie. Interestingly, according to the end credits, Mario Van Peebles himself co-wrote several of the rap songs performed in the movie. Most of the rap songs don't take the central situation they are performed in very seriously. When the overweight member of John's rap posse gets hungry, his friends rap: "Open up / Stuff it in / Eat 'em up / Drink it down / He's having a snack attack! / I can feel it coming through my fingertips / And it's working its way to my lower lip / It's stinging my eyes and warming my nose / Feelin' this way underneath my clothes / Snack attack!" Later, when John bumps into a group of kids who beg for a rap, John raps about various colors, including the color green: "Green is the color, the color of cash / The color of a Rasta's stash / The color of grass, the color of trees / The color of boogers when you sneeze!" Obviously, we are not dealing with genius songwriting with these raps. Still, I have to admit that as cheesy as the lyrics of these and other rap numbers in the movie might have been, these rap songs were fun to listen to. The songwriters weren't taking things very seriously, and I was caught up in their goofy enthusiasm. Also, the performances of these rap numbers are filled with energy by the performers, so as dated and silly as these raps may be, they will put a smile on your face. Maybe a smile from their unintentional humor, but a smile all the same.

There are a few non-rap musical numbers that are unintentionally funny, each in their own way. One singer warbles a love song that includes the lyrics, "United we stand / Divided we fall / Together we can make it / Never tear apart / 'Cause we are born to love." Yes, no rhymes - it sounds as awkward as it reads. There's also a hysterical number when a soul group in purple pants and wearing sweaters each sporting a big letter "F" (which is the grade their fashion designer deserves) perform a song as bad as their wardrobe. By now, some of you might be thinking that Rappin' sounds like it's filled with unintentional camp. Actually, it isn't. Most of the movie comes across as pretty straight, and there are in fact some genuinely positive things to witness along the way. As the main character, Peebles comes across as a very likable person. He has a nice smile, and seems to be very comfortable in both his surroundings and performing his character's rap numbers. He definitely grabs your attention in any scene he's in. Behind the camera, director Joel Silberg (who later directed the infamous Lambada) makes his own positive contributions to the movie. Working on a fairly tight budget (just $2 million, according to one source I read), the movie looks pretty good, lensing on some rundown but eye-catching locations shot in Pittsburgh that make this fictional neighborhood pretty believable. I also enjoyed the fact that Silberg portrayed this neighborhood as being ethnically mixed, and with the majority of the residents getting along with each other and working together. While that may not be the way that many real-life urban neighborhoods are like, I liked Silberg's sunny and positive viewpoint that we can all work and live together regardless of where we came from and what we do.

So Rappin' does have its share of audience-pleasing moments, both intentionally and unintentionally. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to, I can't give this movie a recommendation, at least a general one. There are a number of problems, though none of them are the fault of the director or the cast. All the problems come from one source: the script. Written by two screenwriters with little other writing credits on their resume, even the most forgiving viewers will be shocked by how underwritten the movie is. Take the character of John Hood, for instance. He was in prison, but exactly why? And he and his former girlfriend Dixie, when reunited, never discuss things like how both have changed during his absence or the issue of what he did to be imprisoned. It's as if he never left. Then there are the villains in the movie. Though the residents of the neighborhood are under threat of eviction from the developer, he hardly appears at all in the movie, leaving his dirty work to his henchman. (And we don't even learn what the developer wants the land for.) These and many other characters in the movie are grossly underwritten. But it's not just the script's characters that are weakly written. There isn't really much more to the story that I described in the third paragraph of this review. John is called for an audition by a music producer at one point, but then this subplot is forgotten until the very end of the movie. And with little plot in the movie, things move very slowly. Even before the first half hour of the movie had finished unfolding, I felt like yelling out loud at the movie to quit padding things out with numerous rap and other musical numbers and get on with the story. Rappin' may have some positive attributes, but I was so bored with the minimal story (and with its few plot turns and attributes I had seen in dozens of other movies before) that it was a relief when the end credits started to roll. Still, the movie may appeal to a select few, to those who are interested in the evolution of rap and seeing one of the first Hollywood movies to deal with this music genre.

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See also: Five On The Black Hand Side, Hot Summer, That's Black Entertainment

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