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Backstage Reviews

Pitched somewhere between a concert film and a documentary, first-time feature filmmaker Chris Fiore's record of the 1999 "Hard Knock Life" tour, headlined by Jay-Z and DMX, is neither a showcase for the artists — not a single number is shown in its entirety — nor informative in the sense that it helps place hip-hop in any larger artistic or social context. But it offers a slew of high-profile rap artists the opportunity to posture and spout off obscenely about the importance of hip-hop culture; their fans will be entertained. Roc-A-Fella records co-founder Jay-Z conceived the tour as an affirmation of hip-hop's crossover popularity and assembled the lineup, which ranges from his longtime musical rival DMX to Method Man & Redman, Beanie Sigel, Ja Rule and female rappers Eve and Amil. Over the course of several months in 1999, the tour — co-sponsored by Roc-A-Fella, Polygram and Russell Simmons's Def Jam Music — played to racially mixed audiences in major U.S. and Canadian cities; contrary to predictions, it wasn't marred by violence, cancellations or artist dropouts. Fiore occasionally scores a thought-provoking insight (like DJ Twinz Z's observation that while mosh pit mayhem is accepted at concerts by certain white artists, the same level of disturbance at a rap show would get the event shut down) and catches Roc-A-Feller co-founder Damon Dash pitching a world-class hissy fit because he feels Def Jam has stolen the show by giving all the artists personalized jackets with conspicuous Def Jam logos. Since Dash produced the film, he deserves some credit for not insisting that the unflattering footage be deleted. But mostly Fiore captures various artists horsing around with groupies, smoking dope and hanging out backstage, and cuts the material together in the kinetic but meaningless manner of MTV promos.