Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Story of Ice Cube's Raiders' Cap

30 for 30 is some ESPN sports documentary series. Each episode is like an hour long and the topic's different every week. As a non-sports fan, I only know even that much because I just looked it up. But as a hip-hop fan, one episode is actually quite compelling, especially since each episode is sold individually as a stand-alone short film on DVD (although note that Amazon's currently replaced them with DVD-R versions), so you can pick it up with zero investment in all the golf, ice-skating, and whatever the rest of the series focuses on.

The episode/ short documentary film in question is Straight Outta LA (2010), directed (and narrated) by Ice Cube. And yeah, we all remember his sole past directorial effort was The Players Club; but don't let that scare you off. This is a tight, sincere film where Ice Cube gets to address the very noticeable connection between west coast gangster rap and The LA Raiders. But because it's got ESPN behind it, it also has the capital to bring in just about everybody from John Madden to Snoop Dogg for interviews. There's just tons of players, coaches, journalists, gang bangers, team owners and rappers on hand - and that's not even including all the vintage footage they've got to work with.

It's almost an embarrassment of riches. I can see a lot of smaller filmmakers putting something like this together, but this flick has the resources to really do a stand-up, definitive job. Breezing through topics from the history of the Raiders moving from Oakland to LA, to hip-hop's expansion to the west coast, some pretty names are brought in for some pretty short soundbites. You can tell Cube is struggling to fit the whole story into an hour-minus commercials. For the most part, that works in its favor, giving the film a very fast, watchable pace. But at the same time, it does make it feel a little too superficial. It would be great if we could just sit and visit with some of these interview subjects for more than fifteen seconds at a time.

It's too bad the DVD couldn't have included an expanded director's cut. But as it is, it still manages to plumb some interesting depths, like how the Raiders started making money just as a fashion brand thanks to gangster rap far beyond just team merch. We get to hear the Raiders' marketing guy talk about first meeting NWA and giving them team swag to wear in concert. Even people from other sports are introduced to talk about how their teams changed their colors to black and silver to get on that bandwagon. And we hear how it all started to slip away because the Raiders started losing games. Maybe it's a bit glossed over (Ice Cube talks so briefly about leaving NWA he doesn't even mention Jerry Heller), but it's all here. There's even a weirdo animated segment [right] on the origin of NWA's name.

The arc of the story is dramatically effective, too. Lawsuits, in-team disputes, schools banning Raider gear as being "gang affiliated." And as the film winds up showing us fiery footage of the LA riots, I had to admit, Cube did a great directing job. He introduces the film by claiming that even if you don't care about football or hip-hop, this doc will grab ya, which is kind of an obnoxious way to start a film. But he turned out to be right.

And it ends exactly the way I would've wanted to end the film!  ;)

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