IT'S OFFICIAL: Hip-hop is the new rock and roll, if only because its practitioners are beginning to discover the intoxicating feeling of being made the subject of self-aggrandizing documentary films. Consider the disappointing new Backstage, which—swearing and nudity aside—feels as though it were a made-for-MTV puff piece. It chronicles last year's 54-show Hard Knock Life Tour undertaken by rappers Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman (who has only to look at the camera to crack up even the soberest audience member), Ja Rule, Amil, Eve, Beanie Siegel, and Memphis Bleek. The tour proved not only hip-hop's biggest ever, but went off without a hitch: No cancellations, no ego blowups, and—despite naysayers' warnings—no violence among audience members.
directed by Chris Fiore with Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, and Redman opens September 6 at Meridian 16, other theaters
Unfortunately, instead of actually probing such a potentially rich subject for meaning, director Chris Fiore seems to believe the documentarian's job is just to point his camera and capture the subjects having fun. And that fun gets ugly at times here, especially in scenes involving willing groupies exposing themselves for the rappers' entertainment. (At no point are Eve or Amil, the tour's two female headliners, asked about their responses to this boy's-club behavior.) Of course, it's not hard to see why: Backstage's producer is Damon Dash, the CEO of Roc-a-Fella Records, Jay-Z's label and the tour's primary backer.
Halfway through the movie, Fiore cuts between the glowing testimonials of the tour's stars about Dash and his lengthy shouting match with a hapless suit from Def Jam, Roc-a-Fella's distributor (shades of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant in The Song Remains the Same). With this, it becomes clear that the point of Backstage is less to provide "the definitive look inside" a hip-hop tour (as the press kit puts it), than to grant Dash a bid for immortality. Fortunately, apart from the appeal of its performers, both film and producer will likely be forgotten.