I'm not sure if hip-hop needs an infomercial these days; it seems to be doing pretty well on its own. But that's basically what Paul Kell's documentary, Five Sides of a Coin, is -- special pleading for a cultural movement that's overtaken the planet. Sifting through the last 25 years of breaking and rapping and tagging and scratching, Kell has put together what the movie's press material calls "an in-depth look at the worldwide phenomenon of hip-hop." But that he accomplishes this in-depth look in a mere 70 minutes of clips, stills and talking heads should be a warning to us. Five Sides of a Coin is an in-shallow look at the worldwide phenomenon of hip-hop, and the "worldwide" part is represented by ever-so-brief glances in the direction of England, France, Germany and Japan. (Les Specialistes, vous avez le flava!)
Kell conveniently divides hip-hop into five areas: rap, turntablism, break-dance, human beat-box and graffiti art. And he dutifully works his way through them, focusing more on their origins than on their developments, which means we spend a lot more time with, say, Afrika Bambaataa than with, say, Eminem. The section I enjoyed the most was the first, where various musicians try to explain what hip-hop is. "It's love," Grandmaster Flash says. "It's the street -- the dirt, the earth," Jeru says. "It's a religion," Sondoobie says. And before you can say "All of the above," the documentary's moved on, since it has so much ground to cover. My least favorite section was the last, where Delores Tucker is allowed to spend her two cents on gangsta rap. As this documentary goes to not very great lengths to prove, hip-hop is much bigger than that.