Rural Hip-Hop is still Hip-Hop, A Review of Where You From

I had the opportunity to preview and review the new documentary film Where You From. There will be a screening in Portland, Oregon, Thursday May 6th 7pm NW Film Center
Whitsell Theatre in the Portland Art Museum
(1219 SW Park, Portland)

Follow this link to see if there are any screenings coming to your town.

*Photos used permission of Where You From.

Hip-hop is born of pain and anybody who has felt pain in their life can relate to hip-hop… Hip-hop has reached every aspect of every angle and every crook and cranny of life. Because that’s what it is, it’s about life.

Tommy 2 Tone

Music is a community and within that community lives hip-hop. When the simplifying of people, and the categorizing of art and musical declaration into stereotypes and designed lifestyles are meant to create better selling products, and obvious marketing, it is easy to forget that an art, a craft, a music, and a movement is created by individual people with the single bond of expression. They articulate as individuals within the community. Music is the dissemination of self and the vocalization of the human condition. It is not to be defined by how it is sold, but to be defined by those who create the beats and the language.

Where You From the documentary film by first time filmmaker Sabrina Lee, addresses these issues of definition and stereotypes of who can, does, and is hip-hop. The film is less about the music and its industry, and more about the three individual men, Tommy 2 Tone, Franco, and Chris Murphy, that the film chronicles as each describes their avidity and passion for hip-hop as an outlet for expression. All three are white, but this is beside the point, hip-hop has had white MCs since the early eighties with bands like the Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass, and of course Eminem. There has also been a multitude of DJs, beat boxers, and break-dancers who make up the hip-hop scene and life who consist of all races and genders. What is unlikely about these three men is not the color of their skin, but where they come from. Unlike their urban city counterparts, Tommy 2 Tone, Franco, and Chris all hail from tiny rural towns with low populations, mountain ranges, pastures, high unemployment, farmers and cowboys, and very little hip-hop.

Tommy 2 Tone lives in Livingston, Montana, is a father of four and the most unsuspecting lover and performer of hip-hop. He is a visual contrast to the public fashion that we ascribe to the hip-hop scene. We first meet him sitting in a dive bar, with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Behind him is the American flag plastered to a brick wall, and a row of pool tables. He is covered in self-made tattoos, and wearing a truckers hat that says, “F**k Me I’m White Trash”. The antithesis to his outward appearance is his words. For him hip-hop music is his ambition, his relationship, his religion, and it is his life. While explaining himself as doing hip-hop as a white man in a podunk town he says, “people need to open your minds and realize it is about people.”

Franco is the driving force of the music in the film. Through out the entire production he never wavers or is distracted from his goal of becoming a hip-hop artist. For Franco there is only one thing, and that is hip-hop, and there is only one demon, and that is time; while Tommy 2 Tone and Chris are plagued by personal demons like traumatic upbringings and drug addiction. What they all three have in common is that their music is a means of survival, not monetary survival, but emotional and expressive survival.

The highlights of the film are the Scribble Jam and Matthew Buzzell’s long wide shots of open spaces, mountainous ranges covered in snow, long lonely roads, hazy vistas, and his ability to capture on film the bleak and the beauty of the environment. The over all feel of the film is that it is an introduction into this realm, a small window into these men’s lives. The music is diverse in tone and cadence, and powerful with exciting MC battles although you wish there was a bit more. It lacks continuity, in the sense of time, for example: Tommy 2 Tone has a relapse, and it is uncertain where this happened in the course of the making of the film, nor do we understand how much time has passed. The pacing can be a bit slow due to certain transitions in the editing by splicing high-tension battles abruptly into a subdued scene. Even with this criticism the pacing does not disrupt your attachment to the men as they move forward in their music and lives.

In the end you feel for the artists and wish the best for them. Your heart goes out to Tommy 2 Tone whose lyrics are stabbing, sad, honest and hard hitting. Watching his digression is a bit like watching someone playing train dodge at the point when you are uncertain if they even plan to dodge the train. All three are emphatic in their passion and their drive even when diverted by spiraling and personal heartbreak, for them hip-hop is something you live even if you were born in rural Montana or small town Northern California. Where You From, is a refreshing reminder that no matter where you are from the environment that surrounds you does not bind you, and you do not have to be defined by a stereotype. Hip-hop as a means to communicate, play word battle, uplift, and enthuse will never “die” as long as it is defined by the people and not the dollar.

By Adrienna Ogin

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