Last month, AMC Theaters' Fathom Events hosted a one-night-only nationwide screening of the “lost” Drake documentary Drake's Homecoming. A creature of rumor for years, many thought the footage shot of Drake's return home to perform in Toronto would never see the light of day. Among them, apparently, was Drake himself who took issue with the film's release. As the statement from Drake's representative put it “Obviously Drake and OVO only put out music and video/film that is of the highest quality for their brand and what their fans have come to expect and do not want any fans to buy into something that has not come from them.”
That's never a good sign. Still, if you slap the word “controversial” around pretty much anything in the visual medium, it makes people want to see it. That's especially true when you factor in the evolvement of the executive producers, Rap-A-Lot Records founder James “J.” Prince and his son Jas Prince. If you've ever seen of the the Princes' talking heads in a rap documentary or heard the elder Prince's intros to various Rap-A-Lot albums over the years, you know he's one of the most consistently compelling entities that hip-hop culture has ever seen. The documentary footage that's either leaked or been seen in trailers over the years of them, most memorably Jas Prince recalling his first time playing Drake for Wayne (“Wayne told me he sucked… he was like, '… don't play me that shit no more, he's not good.'”) is the type of material that would appeal to both Drake fans and haters.
But as our Minneapolis sister paper City Pages reported Drake's Homecoming has a lot of problems. Along with Drake's performance itself being “embarrassingly bad,” the IMAX documentary had a multitude of other issues:
Drake's Homecoming is not fit for IMAX. The shots are shaky, grainy, and clipped together with spastic cuts. Audience members frequently bob into the foreground. The crowd's energy is edited out of the speakers, and Drake sounds like he's rapping a capella in his deadened bathroom. Then there's the editing. The documentary has a hard time figuring out whether it's a rock doc or a concert film. Every song transitions into an interview with Rap-A-Lot Records CEO J. Prince and his son, Jas, where the same song Drake just performed plays in the background.
That particular style sound familiar?
Probably not, unless you were an absolute rap obsessive in the mid-2000s for whom albums and mixtapes just weren't enough. While it's become long-forgotten in the era of YouTube shows, Twitter accounts and infinite streaming content, once upon a time there was a mini-empire of the hip-hop direct-to-DVD documentary.
Now, these aren't “documentaries” in the traditional sense really, other than the fact that a camera is on and it documents a particular subject during a certain place and time. Come to think of it, factor in how minor, if even existent, the editing was in these things and you actually have some of the truest “documentaries” ever committed to the small screen. With digital video finally becoming affordable, rap artists looking to make a splash or aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make an impact put together these direct-to-DVD-R releases in the same style as popular hand-to-hand “hood DVDs” that followed an artist or artists around different hood, rapping with their friends or going in for radio interviews.
Obviously, these were never meant for a theatrical screen, and frankly they never featured a rap star with the level of crossover fame that Drake possesses to even make such a thing an option. But given the stylistic similarities, and considering J. Prince was an executive producer, could it be this project was originally intended to be a 2009 direct-to-DVD release?
Case in point, Pimp C: The Final Chapter, probably the most elaborately edited and highest production value of the genre. Rap-A-Lot's direct-to-DVD documentaries were actually high quality enough to be sold in retail stores, but still maintain the blueprint of filming an artist for a while and then using interviews to transition between performances. Pimp C: The Final Chapter following the UGK member's return from prison and first video shoot home (his own homecoming) and then captures the immediate aftermath following his death. As a traditional documentary, again despite having the highest production value and professionalism in the genre, there's a lot here that just wouldn't work in a theater setting and would be unwatchable in IMAX.
That said, perhaps Drake's Homecoming will find a more receptive audience once it hits the home market. These documentaries were to target the fanatics who can't get enough and want to see an artist in their natural habitat, meaning whether the performances were good or bad came secondary to how “real” it was. But while most of these DVDs have become impossible to find as the budget quickly duplicated DVD-Rs made for a format that's near impossible to preserve, some of these pieces of hip-hop history do now exist online, even if their titles make many of them un-Google-able.
Still, it would be hard to top our absolute favorite entry in the aughts' rap-DVD pantheons is Lil Boosie's Bad Azz. Benefitting mostly from Boosie's off-the-charts charisma making his day-to-day routine incredibly watchable (seeing him rap while driving a car is a thing of beauty), what makes the format so powerful in this instance is Boosie giving a tour of his real life childhood home, only for it to burn down mere days later. The camera captures Boosie's return, and the heartbreak is one of the most emotive captured by a camera lens this side of the millennium. Also peppered with Boosie radio interviews, Boosie performances and Boosie bowling, it's our pick for the highpoint of the genre and probably one that could explode across the silver screen as well.
It's been five years Drake. If you're reading this, it's not too late.