I'm not a fan of VH1's latest documentary, "The Tanning of America: One Nation Under How Hip Hop" directed by Billy Corben. In its attempt at comprehension in the survey of the history of hip hop music and its impact as a culture on the U.S. it provided instead a conflation of African American pop media culture in the past 40 years. How is The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, and even Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" hip hop per se? The documentary, based on Steve Stoute's 2012 book of the same title, fails in its initial film thesis of how hip hop put Barack Obama in the White House with such a fatuous oral history on hip hop's indeed impact on the U.S. through lower and middle class youth. Halfway, through the talking-head docu-series (broken into 4 episodic parts) the doc shifts its focus to commercial branding of hip hop rather than the music itself. Now, Stoute's book was more focused on hip hop and the new economy rather than hip hop as a cultural movement that shaped mainstream America, the documentary's intended aim. It would've been better if he stayed with his original focus of the book for a documentary and excluded himself as an interviewee and instead, played the role of a narrator, moderator, or even host of this special TV docu-series. Lastly, the documentary felt more like a conversational piece with significant interviewees than a film documentation of a story narrative. And, like Ice T's documentary, "The Art of Rap", also released on VH1 two years ago, "The Tanning of America" lacks direction. Really--how do you cover the history of hip hop and talk nothing about Tupac Shakur?
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