Two Turntables and a Microphone
by Brody Rossiter
Following the infamous 1999 Hard Knock Life Tour – featuring numerous rap and hip-hop artists from both Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella records – Backstage is perhaps one of the most chaotic, revealing, and ultimately entertaining music documentaries out there for your viewing pleasure.
Unsurprisingly, artists such as Jay-Z, DMX (remember when DMX was the hottest new rap act on the block?), Method-Man and Redman, are the stars of the show both onstage and behind the scenes. The time spent with these individuals in their cramped, smoke-filled dressing rooms tucked away in the recesses of massive American arenas unveils a series of unique and endearing characters – stories of their own hard road to success are seemingly all worthy of a separate documentary. Backstage also reveals the many vices of individuals accustomed to a hard knock life. From the comedic blunt fuelled majesty of a post-show M.E.T.H.O.D Man and Redman meditation on life, to the depraved parading of naked groupies and internal (yet very public) squabbles between tourmates, the picture presents an expectantly debauched yet fair portrayal of its many larger-than-life characters while retaining a great sense of the period’s urgency.
Snippets of concert footage clearly present the true levels of stardom and fandom many of the record labels’ artists experienced back in ’99, and whilst some continued to grow in popularity (Jay-Z) others ultimately fell from grace (DMX). The depicted rivalry between Def-Jam Records and Roc-A-Fella mogul Damon Dash provides much of the documentary’s bite – Dash repeatedly revealing why many consider him an “asshole”. Retrospectively, during a time in which the genre of rap and its many offshoots are more prominent and innovative than ever, Backstage offers the perfect opportunity to experience perhaps the last, and most darkly opulent days of gangsta rap in all their ragged, hazy glory.