The lunatic is in the hall, and it's Judge Bill Gibron!
Who got da props?
From the streets of Brooklyn, New York, to the stages of concert venues worldwide, the members of the rap act Black Moon are making a name for themselves with their old school / new idealism form of music. MCs 5FT and Buckshot, along with large and in charge DJ Evil Dee, believe in the independent spirit of hip-hop, an essence outside the corporate arena of production and promotion. In its place, they want the music and the message to stay with the people—the individuals who create, complement, and consume this culture as part of their lives.
Unlike other popular acts, which use familiar samples and/or live instrumentation to bolster their beats, Black Moon relies on the past precepts of two turntables and a microphone to create their semi-sensational sonic soundscapes. Filled with delicate piano trills and flamboyant flute fills, Moon's music stands out as a nostalgic ideal mixed with the unflinching new attitude of the contemporary 'hood.
In preparation for the release of their third album, Total Eclipse, the group tours the country—and their local borough of the Big Apple—to give us an inside peek at the lifestyle and business side of being a "mid-level" rap act (their own words). Through Black Moon's live performances, videos, on-camera confessionals, and street scene rants, the audience has a chance to see these artists promote and emote as we take a in-depth look at Black Moon: Behind the Moon.
Like a lot of things with this interesting, aggressive rap act, Black Moon: Behind the Moon is just a stone's throw away from being great. This applies to all aspects of the presentation: the DVD, the film contained therein, the concert performances the band creates, and the music that makes up their independent image. Indeed, if one were a pessimist, one would argue that unlike other hip-hop groups, Black Moon is underwhelming and borderline amateurish. They tend to rely on the boast and false bravado to up their street cred, and all the politics and pontifications they spew are mostly missing from their weed-and-women lyrics.
But that's just the dark side of the satellite. Instead, it's better to view Black Moon as an up-and-coming act that is growing in confidence and cleverness from release to release. 1993's Enta Da Stage took a stance against the badass gangsta glorification to capture a nihilistic approach to their subject matter. Sure, there was such time honored hip-hop traditions as the MC challenge and the bombastic brag, but mostly, Black Moon painted bleak images of inner city life meshed with the empowering components of drugs and violence. Some even consider this album a crossroads for the genre, recalling a more laid-back approach that would come to symbolize the stance of performers like Biggie Smalls and Snoop Dogg. Six years later, 1999's War Zone continued the tribute mentality as Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip made guest appearances. Again, a languid, jazz-inflected shuffle replaces rapid-fire beats, and the overall impression of the music was something simple yet sinister, atmospheric and yet antagonistic.
With 2003's Total Eclipse, Black Moon hoped to "blow up." They wanted their cult status to move over into champagne-and-crib country. Along with their friend and manager, Duck Down Records CEO Dru Ha (a decidedly young and white executive), what began as a campaign to gain publicity for the band and the CD release turned into a tell-all exposé of the artists and their beliefs. Indeed, Black Moon: Behind the Moon is at its best when 5FT and Buckshot share their personal insights into the industry, address the lack of heart in most rap music, and discuss the constant classification of all black music as being one thing or the other: at one time, it was all R&B, then soul, and now hip-hop is the new moniker of choice by corporate America.
The distinct feeling one gets from the rants and revelations on this DVD is that Black Moon fancy themselves one of the few sovereign entities left: renegade, rebellious spirits hoping to still make it in the business. They grieve for the loss of the independent spirit of the street, and wish more musicians would get in touch with their roots to carry the genre to new levels of political and personal truth. Sure, they celebrate the excesses of the game—the glitter and the ganja—with equal infatuation, but when Buckshot stands on a neighborhood corner preaching his points, or 5FT takes the lens to let go a blistering bum rush of his fellow freestylers, Black Moon: Behind the Moon prepares to round the corner into greatness. But somehow, it seems to get stuck before reaching the other side.
Maybe it's because the concert footage is filmed so poorly. Instead of getting an audience-eye view of the group in action, we are at the side of the stage, usually viewing the MCs in profiles and close-up. We get no feel for the venue, no chance to experience the music as a concertgoer would. Instead, we are just members of the posse, not allowed the chance to sample the sounds from the proper vantage point. Also, the videos are a little routine and rote. Watching DJ Evil Dee pound the drums is very compelling, but the jumping jive of 5FT and Buck charging the camera grows old very quickly. Occasionally, the entourage ideal undermines a scorching track, but for the most part, our MCs just can't seem to move beyond the confrontational flay. Conceivably, the major missing element is the private angle, offered in drips and drabs throughout the course of the DVD but never really at the forefront. We do meet some family and a few of the close crew, but we never really understand the interpersonal dynamic. Dru and Buck are longtime buddies, and yet there is not a single shot of them in their youth. Indeed, we learn very little about the influences and flavors the band believes in, and by the end of the disc, we wish there were less of the MC challenges and soap box debates, and more mentions of how the music is created.
Still, as a souvenir from what many consider to be one of the seminal acts in rap, Black Moon: Behind the Moon is very good. It's just not great. It doesn't transcend its homemade trappings to say something special about the artists or their career. Instead of the brave face of self-promotion the band assumes, they should have let an individual removed from the process step in and capture their craft in a warts-and-all depiction of how acts on the edge of success really function. For all their influence and personal fire, Black Moon doesn't burn as brightly as other outposts for street poetry. A true independent eye could have found this within the elements offered here. But what we have is an almost-autobiography, with a lot of self-censorship along the way.
At least the audio and video elements are excellent on this presentation. The 1.33:1 full screen, taken from several divergent stocks (video, camcorder, film and professional productions), is near perfect, with minimal grain or compression issues. There is a predisposition to keep the colors muted, but that seems to support the band's less-than-vivid view of the world. The sound here is also sensational. Black Moon creates very evocative backdrops for their rhymes (thanks to DJ Evil Dee's inventiveness behind the mixing board) and the Dolby Digital Stereo captures them exquisitely. The entire DVD utilizes a backbeat underscoring that really helps to create and keep the tone locked in the reality of the scene.
As a near-superstar act, Black Moon does an excellent job of keeping the foundations of rap front and center. Too bad they couldn't find a way to finally make it over the top.
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