Thursday, February 08, 2007

Looking Back at the Greatness of Tha Row

This morning, I opened a copy of the new Death Row Records retrospective, "15 Years On Death Row." This is the latest in a series of "greatest hits" packages that Suge Knight has released to try to keep his sinking ship afloat.

This particular collection includes a DVD that contains all, if not most, of the music videos from the Row's catalog (including a particularly funny extended version of "Let Me Ride"). Many of these videos from the Dr. Dre period (1993-96) are iconic examples of the popular gangsta rap subgenre. It's a wonder how West Coast hip-hop even functioned before Dre and Snoop were showing teens around the nation that Southern California could be best described with Five B's: Booze, Bimbos, Blunts, Ben Davis shirts, Buckets, er, cars.

The ironic social commenting clip for "Lil' Ghetto Boy" is a rare that I didn't even know existed. In fact, in some of the scenes with Snoop rapping, you can still see the time code at the bottom of the screen, who knows if was ever meant to be screened. It is also a stark contrast to the hooky dance rap that populated the MTV and BET airwaves thanks to groups like Bell Biv Devoe, Kris Kross and Snow. Likewise, the video counterpart also seems to be a response to Lionel C. Martin, a popular video director whose videos often glamorized singers and rappers as wealthy entertainers, often being above their fans.

Death Row's early videos are raw and amateurish since they were done by rookie director, Dre. But simultaneously, the videos are honest -- if not in their depiction of how the Row's rappers thought Black America should be, then it reflected the label's interests and exploits.

So even if you own the best of Death Row's albums right up until the release of 2Pac's "Makaveli" album, I'd still recommend copping this three disc collection. You may have all the songs, but to have a milestone of hip-hop, even one with negative connotations, packed onto one little DVD, is worth the price of five posthumous 2Pac albums.

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