Kevin Epps measures Rap Dreams against hood realities
By Johnny Ray Huston
Straight Outta Hunters Point hit locally in 2001, but its impact has resonated as far away as Brazil and lasted about as long. Even four years later, it was the fave DVD of a smart kid at my corner video store a place since shut down that now looks like it could be one of the blasted-out backdrops of Epps's new movie, Rap Dreams.
Once again Epps's title is playing off of a classic. But whereas the name of his first movie had NWA as a reference, the new one nods to Steve James's doc Hoop Dreams, a shift that reflects his development as a filmmaker. Rap Dreams has the raw immediacy that gave Epps's first feature its rep but with sharper journalistic focus and storytelling skills. Early on, after one character echoes Nas's one-mic philosophy, Epps takes aim at the corner of Westpoint and Middlepoint, and you might think you're in for Straight Outta Part II. However, his camera soon travels through the Tenderloin and Oakland, and deep into the pasts and present-day lives of area MCs such as Kev Kelley, Mistah F.A.B., and Hectic.
Epps frames their creative and strike-it-rich hopes within the vivid skepticism of Kelley's grandfather, who opens the movie by claiming a career in rap is a chase after fool's gold. Successes such as Digital Underground's Shock G, and Balance whose laid-back attitude is a study in contrast to the showboating of many MCs here seem to counter that belief; since (as one label honcho says) "ProTools is hella cheap," grinding units out of a trunk can yield impressive numbers. But even that isn't necessarily enough for a father of three like Kelley. Shock G recognizes a Tupac-like, camera-ready charisma (if not poetic genius) in him, but the cops see someone to harass even outside a show where's he supposed to perform.
A lot of what's great about Rap Dreams seems offhand: the upside-down Nike swoosh of a discarded basketball, a shot of hoochies passing by cars in a parking lot or one subject's stroll by an Out of Time billboard to a Church of Christ sign. The energy here stems from the way Epps always allows the hungriest white-t in a crowd to mug for the camera. But the power comes from the way his wise eyes are open to details that lurk in the corners. *
Roxie Film Center
See Rep Clock for showtimes.www.rap-dreams.com