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Palm Pictures presents
Definitive Jux Presents: The Revenge of the Robots DVD (2003)

"We've reached a critical juncture in Def Jux right now. We're both, Mr. Lif and myself are on suicide watch. We're at a bad place. My ego has been severely pummeled into the ground over the last couple of days. Not only has my name been spelled wrong on the flyer (when it appears), but we're doing a club with a capacity far under what I've ever done. Two of the artists on the bill aren't actually in Europe with us. I'm drinking, it's about six o'clock. I've been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, but I think I'm going to bump it up to two and a half soon."
- El-P

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: July 28, 2003

Stars: Mr. Lif, El-P, RJD2
Other Stars: Cage, Copywrite
Director: Jason Goldwach, Amaechi Uzoigwe

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, some drug content)
Run Time: 00h:58m:09s
Release Date: July 29, 2003
UPC: 660200306625
Genre: hip-hop


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BC+C+ B

DVD Review

Rapper El-P started Definitive Jux records as an alternative to major label hip hop. He saw trends emerging in the industryŚmega corporations glomming onto popular styles and milking them dryŚthat offended his artistic sensibilities. Def Jux, as it came to be known, allowed for purer musical expression, phat beats meant to tell the truth, not just to sell records.

This documentary follows El-P and his stage buddies RJD2 and Mr. Lif on their 2002 worldwide Revenge of the Robots tour, splicing together a bit of music, some on-the-road antics, lots of philosophizing on the state of hip hop and America in general, and more than enough humor. The result is fast-moving, entertaining piece that gives you a good idea of who the rappers are and what motivates them to make their particular brand of fiercely independent hip hop.

Most of hip hop is foreign to me, primarily because I can't stand a large chunk of the major label variety. Artists like 50 Cent and Ja-Rule might be "keepin' it real" about life on the streets, but they're still producing music that is often crass and tasteless, odes to violence and materialism. The Def Jux artists set their sights higher, promoting the same kind of firebrand political rap as groups like Jurassic 5. El-P comments that critics label them "progressive hip hop" because of their unique beats and one-of-a-kind sound. But the label could just as easily apply to their political views, which pop up in nearly every song.

This well-produced travelogue, slickly edited to a thumping hip hop beat, is entertaining even for Def Jux newcomers, if only because its subjects are intelligent, funny guys with worthwhile things to say about life on the fringes of the recording industry. El-P is bitter and sarcastic, but generally good-natured (a nice change from the "thug" image popular in mainstream rap). Mr. Lif, his impressive rabbit ear braids perched atop his head, has a quick wit and a sly sense of humor. RJD2... doesn't talk much, but he does warn against the dangers of mescaline. In case you were worried about those holes in your stomach lining.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The source material for the feature travelogue and the bonus footage was video, much of it shot simply with hand held cameras. As a result, it doesn't exactly look great on DVD, but I can't fault Palm Pictures for the unattractive picture. Colors are muted and black level is poor, and at times there is some excessive grain (which seems to be either an artifact of low light shooting or an intentional post-production artistic effect). I noticed no faults like artifacting or aliasing, so this is probably about the best such material can look. There are some occasional digital anomalies caused by the digital cameras used to shoot at least some of the footage.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The feature documentary is presented in a basic stereo mix. The soundstage is fairly broad, with the hip hop soundtrack sounding nice and full, but speech is often very difficult to understand, likely because all of the footage and accompanying audio was captured on location, with little post-production polish. The bonus live concert footage is presented in DD 5.1 surround, anchoring vocals in the center speaker, the beats across the front soundstage, and audience reaction in the rears. There is a decent amount of punch to the thumping LFE. The raps are still a bit muddled, and the tracks still sound like slightly airy live performances, but the surround enhancement is nice.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Live Concert Footage
  2. 5 Music Videos
  3. Bonus CD
Extras Review: Though this title is billed as a two-disc set, the second disc is actually a music-only CD with a number of exclusive tracks and mixes and an "enhanced" trivia game.

Extras on Disc One provide numerous treats for hip hop fans. The primary bonus is the so-called "documentary" on Def Jux records (34 min.), an seemingly random assemblage of footage of various artists on the label philosophizing about American culture and the current state of hip hop music. Watching these disparate artists in their natural element, I started to think of underground hip hop as a sort of new Bohemian movement, where people come together to express radical ideas through artistic expression. These are smart guys, full of opinions (El-P, when talking about the violent content of most rap music, labels most humans as "unrestricted animals of dissention and insecurity." How's that for a "yo' momma" put-down?).

Five Live Concert Footage clips run between three and five minutes and offer energetic performances in full 5.1 DD sound. Clips include Deep Space 9mm, Home of the Brave, The Horror, Stepfather Factory, and Live from the Plantation. All were recorded at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, save Stepfather Factory, recorded at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

Five is also the number of music videos included. The clips are low-budget, but very creative and distinct. Deep Space 9mm is rife with social commentary, sci-fi/horror-themed The Horror (complete with a creepy dwarf) is rather slick looking, Stepfather Factory features creepy animation, Return of the B-Boy, pt. II is also animated, in a style reminiscent of Waking Life, and Risky Business is a parody of the Tom Cruise film. There is also a short "making of" for the Risky Business video.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

I'm not particularly knowledgable about hip hop, and I certainly had no prior awareness of Def Jux Records; still, I enjoyed this document of the 2002 Revenge of the Robots tour. Palm's DVD release includes some very nice extras and an entire bonus CD, so fans will certainly want to pick it up.

 


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