dream hampton’s It Was All a Dream Is the Right Rap Documentary for Right Now

dream hampton’s It Was All a Dream Is the Right Rap Documentary for Right Now

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Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre’s rap column covers songs, mixtapes, albums, Instagram freestyles, memes, weird tweets, fashion trendsand anything else that catches his attention.


Last week, we got the trailer for Piece by Piece, a quasi-documentary that tells the story of Pharrell Williams’ life in the form of a… Lego movie. That’s right. The Lego Group is following The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part with a cutesy, skin-crawling piece of hagiography. For one, it’s marketed as an “experience that captures the magic and brilliance of Pharrell Williams’ creative genius, one Lego brick at a time,” which just means Pharrell’s story is going to be sterilized and hollow. Maybe worse, Lego clearly is using hip-hop as a way to keep its brand cool. In the trailer, we see Lego depictions of Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, and more, all figurines that I wouldn’t be surprised to see hit the shelves of toy stores by the movie’s fall release date. What else would be the point? Because we know for sure that Lego isn’t all of a sudden interested in preserving hip-hop stories. And, if they are, I’ll be patiently waiting to buy a ticket for Rio Da Yung LEG-OG in IMAX.

On the same day that I saw the Piece by Piece trailer, I watched dream hampton’s absorbing new documentary It Was All a Dream. It gave me whiplash. The Detroit-raised writer, critic, and filmmaker’s Black feminist perspective, and skepticism of rap’s point of view, has been shaking up hip-hop since ’91, when her outraged article “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” about Dr. Dre’s violent attack on television host Dee Barnes, was included in an issue of The Source. Her longtime outspokenness and willingness to confront the misogyny of the genre has often wrongfully positioned her in opposition to music for which she holds a complicated love. It Was All a Dream, which has screened twice as part of Tribeca Festival and shows one more time on Saturday, June 15, at Village East by Angelika, speaks to the contradictions, albeit more subtly than I ever expected from dream. Go through her impressive work, from her acidic review of Maxwell’s Embrya in the Village Voice (she later apologized but I still love it) to her fiery ode to Tupac to being the showrunner of Lifetime’s revealing Surviving R. Kelly, she’s rarely been subtle.

Comprised entirely of archival video footage dream captured from 1993 to 1995 and narrated using pieces she wrote throughout that decade, It Was All a Dream is an intimate look at an era of hip-hop when the East Coast–West Coast rivalry was in its early days, gangsta rap had thrown the essence of the genre into question, and the commercialization of rap was starting to run rampant. All told through the eyes of a twentysomething dream as she drifts from studio sessions to backseat car rides with a few of the defining rappers of the era: Dre and Snoop, Mobb Deep, Lil’ Kim, Method Man, Diddy, and Biggie. The juiciest footage is of Biggie, with whom she had a close relationship, so we get to see him joke around and chill, a side of him that’s lost with his larger-than-life mythology.

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