[2 October 2007]
Preserving Efforts‘s subtitle, “A Classic Hip Hop Video Archive”, is pretty misleading. So, too, is the cover art, which boasts of videos from Atmosphere, Living Legends, Guru, Murs, “and many more.” This is probably shrewd marketing: Imagine you’re a young hip hop fan, but your father doesn’t know anything about the music. If he saw this DVD at Amazon, or at Target, he might well buy it, thinking, “Classic videos—my kid’ll like this!”
But there’s the first mistake: This is not a DVD of “classic videos” from hip hop’s history. Unless I’m much mistaken, I don’t think any video on the DVD is more than three- or four-years-old. Most are from the past couple of years, and all the tracks but one are freely available from YouTube (Muphin’s “A Better Man”, which can best be described as an emo rap song, is exclusively available on this compilation). The only rapper with mainstream (i.e., outside hip hop) name recognition is Guru, and I don’t think people are going to look back on “Hood Dreamin” as a great Guru song.
Preserving Efforts seems to mean “videos of classic-style hip hop”, because most of the groups here are heavy on the boom-bap. Both from budget constraints and principle, the reigning visual aesthetic is late ‘80s b-boy. Whether it’s two emcees in front of a DJ, crouching down to posture for a ground-level camera, or graffiti-inspired animation—it’s like opening up a time capsule.
In part, this time capsule effect is explained by the second misleading aspect of Preserving Efforts: while the four acts mentioned on the cover are American, this is an Australian production. Fully 7 bands are from Down Under, plus one from England (Birmingham’s Def Tex), one from the Netherlands (Pete Philly & Perquisite), and one from Canada (the “comical” Wordburglar). So while it’s technically true there are “many more” artists, there aren’t “many more” of, say, Guru’s stature.
One more reservation about the collection: There are more or less no special features. It’s just the videos. You do get to see the director, how long it took to make, an approximate budget, shooting location, and some other facts, but there are absolutely no commentary tracks—no artists, no directors, no smoked-out fans, not the compiler. Nothing. That’s too bad, since it would be interesting to hear how the collection came together. Also, since I suspect at least one or two of these acts will be new to any given viewer, it would’ve been nice to have a little bit more editorial commentary.
For all that, Preserving Efforts is appealing in its enthusiasm for anticommercial, underground-style hip hop, and for the music’s global appeal. If your taste in rap runs in that direction—if your neck knows—then you will probably find at least one or two songs here that are worth a listen or three. Of the non-American bands, I probably liked Def Tex and Tzu the best, but Murs’s “H-U-S-T-L-E” is the best video of the lot.
Given the absence of special features, and the free availability of virtually all the songs online, probably only hip-hop heads plagued by completist impulses will want to buy the DVD. But if you aren’t familiar with Australian underground hip hop, Preserving Efforts track list is a good place to start.