In 1994, hip hop experienced an incredible commercial and artistic rebirth, a period that many historians refer to in already wistful terms as “hip hop’s last great year.” There was big-time heart and camaraderie within the industry — this prior to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. — and records actually took longer than a week or 10 days to create, and weren’t reliant on a zillion cameos from other artists of whom you’d never heard. The west coast-fueled “g-funk” sound dominated the charts, powered by Snoop Dogg, who then still had an extra “Doggy” in his name; Nas stepped on the scene with the now-classic Illmatic; and the wildly creative Wu-Tang Clan was unstoppable.
Hosted by Koe Rodriguez, Hip Hop Time Capsule 1994 takes a look back at the artists, music videos and cultural movement of that time, as captured in archival footage from (cable access channel show?) RETV. Naturally, that means a huge mixed bag. While it’s true that there are videos herein from House of Pain, Craig Mack, Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest, to name a few, more often than not these snippets aren’t the group’s best-known or biggest hits, and neither do they run in uninterrupted fashion. Sure, you get to see some lost, rarely spun material, like The OC’s “Time’s Up” and the Pharcyde’s “The Rubbers Song,” but is anyone really yearning for House of Pain’s “Legend/Word is Bond”?
The problem here is a matter of focus. Rodriguez is an amiable enough guide through this material, but too many bits — like his interview with producer Maleet, who found inspiration in Beatnuts-style sampling — drag on for too long. If there’s a little attention to chronology, there’s certainly none paid to overall cohesion, sadly. Still, despite its grab-bag construction, there are worthy bon mots for intellectually-minded hip hop fans — that is to say those who dig deeper than just the beat, and find fascination in the music’s relevance and relation to modern-day minority culture. In particular, there is some thoughtful interview material with film director John Singleton, from the press day for Illegal Tender, as well as insightful analysis from Princeton political science professor Melissa Harris Lacewell. Strangely, there’s also unsourced material from the trailer for American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
Hip Hop Time Capsule 1994 is housed in a regular Amray case, and presented on a region-free disc that features a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound track, and alternates between widescreen and full screen transfers of source material of greatly differing quality. The good news is that there are ample bonus features here, even if the layout of their presentation leaves a bit to be desired. Smif-N-Wesson’s “Let’s Get It On” is one of 10 bonus musical selections. There are also interview snippets (including with Run DMC’s late, great Jam Master J), clips from the Source Awards, a mini-documentary by LaMar Stephens and four PSAs promoting safe sex, including one that misidentifies Ice-T as Ice Cube. Whoops. To purchase the disc via Amazon, click here. C (Movie) C+ (Disc)