G-Funk is a laid-back and enjoyable chronicle of the early days of West Coast hip-hop, featuring and produced by some of the genre’s most famous luminaries.
This review is part of an ongoing series covering films appearing in the 2017 Calgary Underground Film Festival, published simultaneously with www.danielmelvilljones.com.
I’m a young white guy from Canada and I’ve fallen in love with hip-hop. And I’m not alone in my generation in eagerly awaiting the new Kendrick album, or keenly listening to Chance the Rapper, or strangely mesmerized by the latest antics of Kanye. But because I’m a recent convert to the genre, my understanding of how this art form got here is scant, relying on occasional dips into the back catalogs of A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast. A film like G-Funk serves a needed role in introducing me to its history. It’s a sunny documentary traces hip-hop’s influential sub-genre of g-funk through the story of three key members: Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G.
The film tells the story of the trio’s early days when they called themselves 213, their collaboration with Dr. Dre on his legendary albums, and the subsequent success of the now infamous Snoop Dogg. It traces how some of these members were picked up by Dre’s label while others were abandoned, and the resulting East Coast vs West Coast battle. The documentary refuses to focus on just the rapping, delving in to other aspects of hip-hop culture; how the music reflects the vibe of the local culture; the importance of the collaboration between the producer, the emcee, and his label mates; and the sometimes messy impact of doing business amongst a close-knit group of friends.
This story is told primarily through engrossing interviews with an impressive roster of west coast hip-hop alumni, including rappers, producers, and label heads. It is supplemented with photos, footage, and clips from music videos, and is, of course, soaked through with the music itself. The movie’s tone is largely celebratory. It takes brief forays into the tragedies and disappointments that inevitably make their appearance, including Warren G’s abandonment by the label, the violence that killed Notorious B.I.G, and the racial discrimination that is a backdrop to much of the genre. But it doesn’t dwell on these themes for long, returning always to triumph in the groovy beats that form the foundation of its namesake.
G-Funk was written and produced by Warren G, who’s also one of the primary interview subjects and whose story features predominantly in its narrative. I wonder if such close involvement influenced the self-congratulatory tone of the film, represented by footage of a reunion concert he and several of the other rappers give. Still, this movie is as laid-back and enjoyable as the funky beats of the music it describes. Listening to their story is like eavesdropping on a bunch of uncles and older cousins who are way cooler than you. We listen in as they reminisce with joy over the world they created, a world you are now living amongst and take so often for granted.