Blunted on Reality

Backstage is now playing in theaters nationwide.





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"I came to blow it down, and that's what I'm gonna do - blow it down,"

sounds-off rapper DMX, who went from being a rough, barking Yonkers MC to a

rough, barking kingpin of hip-hop. He motions to the camera to get its

attention while he raps, "What I see day-to-day brings tears to my eyes /

And how I holla at a nigga brings ears to my cries." DMX means business as

he grabs the audience's attention. "I only have a short time that I have

their ears, their undivided attention, and I'm gonna abuse it," he says

later. "That's the need to be heard."

There's no question that the performers of the Hard Knock Life

Tour were heard by an unprecedented number of fans as they made their

54-day trek across North America. Members of three of hip-hops best-selling

acts - Wu-Tang Clan, Ruff Ryders and Roc-A-Fella - joined together to wow

fans from New York to Los Angeles.

For the new documentary Backstage, director Chris Fiore

and a small crew of camera operators traveled with the artists on foot,

bus, limo and jet to steal a behind-the-scenes look at the life of rap and

hip-hop's biggest acts. The camera daringly follows the artists everywhere

they go, from R-rated run-ins with groupies to spontaneous rhyming sessions

with back-room guards to entertaining each other's kids. Backstage's

concept was to go beyond the usual concert film to compose a real,

uncensored image of what it's like to be on the inside of a major,

highly-anticipated hip-hop tour.

The film's appearance list runs like the glossy concert

headlines - Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, DJ

Clue, Amil, Ja Rule, Eve, DJ Twinz Z, Damon Dash, Swizz Beatz and even a

surprise visit from Busta Rhymes.

The performers draw you into their lives as they sound off on

growing up in the streets and dealing with shootings, violence, drugs and

gang life. Nowadays, the buzz words run more like this - money, blunts,

booze and women. "It's all about being ugly and getting this fucking

money," an unidentified rapper yells at the camera.

But before the money and fame comes the music. And what makes

their music real, the rappers say, is that they live the lives they write

about. "I'm not sayin' 'go 'head, go do it, be a murderer, be a killa,'

nah," says Memphis Bleek. "I'm just lettin' you know that that there is

murderers and there are killas and drug dealers."

I was blown away by the "raw gutter" energy of DMX (he epitomizes the

have-nots, the "niggaz that ain't got shit"); the gracious and father-like

Jay-Z (who sees himself as a hustler, not an artist); the unadulterated

likeability of Ja Rule (who remains friendly and comical even after the

camera crew wakes him up for an early morning interview); the "runway

quality" appeal of Amil (the only female performer to actually address the

camera).

Other surprises - Jay-Z doesn't smoke or drink; Redman is high

from practically the beginning to the end of the movie; DMX owns 11 dogs;

Damon Dash has his mother's face tattooed on his arm. Especially

mind-blowing is the story of how Beanie Sigel signed a record deal 12 hours

after he was introduced to Jay-Z, who was shocked by Sigel's flowing

ability.

You're witness to a powerful bond of friendship and healthy

competition between Jay-Z and DMX in Backstage. In the grim

aftermath of the deadly rivalry between Biggie and 2Pac, it's more than

refreshing to watch the two rappers share the stage and convey mutual love

and respect for each other.

Of course, not everything in this movie is filled with love and

good intentions. The rappers use and are used by the groupies backstage.

"When we get back to the hotel they be floodin' out there," says an

incredulous Memphis Bleek. Some are pressured backstage to take their

clothes off in front of the camera. The camera even follows one rapper into

a bathroom where a female fan gives him oral sex on the toilet seat. Aside

from the camerawomen and a few female producers, rappers Amil and Eve are

the only women not being felt up. Needless to say, if you're bothered by

songs with titles like "Money, Cash, Ho's," you're probably better off not

seeing this film.

The overall gist is one of comedy, spontaneity and remembrance.

The director uses the camera in surprising and diverse ways - such as the

use of nature shots between chapters - to set this film apart from others.

At one point, a camerawoman asks Ja Rule what he did before he

started rapping. "I was into the drug game," he says with a laugh. "Like

every other rapper that ever picked up a mic. This music shit is a savior

to a lotta young, black niggaz in the hood cuz we ... come from nothin'.

I'm just appreciative of what I've got. I'm not really overwhelmed with

none of it ... It's a struggle.... As long as you black, it's gonna be a

hustle."

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