Monday, June 3, 2013

A Review: The Otherside Documentary

Seen above: Geologic of the Seattle rap duo Blue Scholars, as seen in the documentary "Otherside."

The Otherside, a documentary about the growing and unique world of Northwest hip-hop, is an ambitious documentary. Northwest hip-hop is a very weighty topic - rappers from the Northwest are very similar to white rappers: they're a consistent part of the hip-hop aesthetic but there is still something strange about rap from the Puget Sound; it doesn't quite fit with what we are used to hip-hop sounding, acting or looking like.

Quite a bit of commendation has to be made to the filmmakers J.R. Celski (the Executive Producer), Dan Torok (the Director) and Vinny Dom (the Producer) for making The Otherside at all. The film came originally out of a fondness for the Blue Scholars, a positive rap duo formed in 2004 between rapper Geologic and producer Sabzi. Much of the film focuses either on Blue Scholars or, of course, Macklemore - the latter being one of the most successful rap acts in Seattle hip-hop history - even more so than Sir Mix-A-Lot, who of course makes many appearances in the film.

Oldominion, a loosely affiliated group of over two dozen Seattle based rappers and producers that encompasses a sizeable portion of the Northwest hip-hop world, was not even mentioned in this documentary - not out of anything malicious but because the filmmakers oddly seemed to have really never heard of them. The directors were obviously college kids (question and answer sets afterward showed that the directors and producers discovered Blue Scholars in middle school) and so it is quite a bit to ask that they know the entire gammot of Northwest hip-hop (they certainly brought a few acts in to their lense that this website has never heard of).

What was weird is that the entire Oldominion sect of Seattle/Portland rappers - encompassing projects like The Gigantics, Th3rdz and Grayskul - was apparently not even mentioned in the interviews - the highly successful Macklemore featured Oldominion affiliate Xperience all over his most recent album. The Oldominion duo Grayskul has been signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment, a major rap album, since 2004 and has put out a half dozen albums in that time period. Their success is at least on par with Blue Scholars. When myself and another crowd member mentioned Oldominion, the director said he "had never even heard of them" - it seemed very strange that Macklemore, Seattle super producer Jake One or Seattle rap journalist Larry Mizell Jr. would not even have mentioned the word "Oldominion" in interviews for a major documentary about Seattle hip-hop.

The logo for Seattle rap group Oldominion.

"Oldominion," being such a large network of artists, isn't really a solid rap group but an actual identity, name and logo for a large portion of the Seattle hip-hop community. For Oldominion to not be mentioned in a documentary about Seattle hip-hop is rather shocking.

Likewise, groups like Source of Labor or Black Anger aren't mentioned at all in the lengthy historical perspective that the producers take on and acts like Grynch, probably one of the most significant hip-hop acts, are just barely mentioned. Neema Khorrami, another one of the most significant current acts, is also not mentioned at all. As is Sonny Bonoho. The Facebook page for the film mentions that the film's trailer had to be pulled to "remove some artists that didn't want to be there, sorry for the inconvenience." When artists in attendance at the premiere were asked "to stand up" - almost none did. Seattle rap artists tend to be a pretty press friendly group - that artists would want to boycott the film seemed really strange.

I talked to Torok about this in an e-mail conversation and he told me this:

You were correct in stating that Oldominion wasn’t mentioned. We interviewed as many people as we could link up with and when other names came up, if it was unanimous, we explored those. If Oldominion was mentioned, it wasn’t mentioned in detail which didn’t give us the link to follow for the storyline. And of course really great artists like Neema were left out, but not maliciously. I live in NYC, JR in LA/Utah. It was really difficult to get people lined up for interviews on short notice (when I lived in Seattle I was in school full-time). At the same time, exclusion of the “rest” of Seattle’s hip-hop artists leads to one thing…more films that stem off of what we created. And that is awesome! It will give people creative control to follow up with things that were over-looked and or missed, or just plain out ignored due to budget and time constraints. Adding Oldominion, Grayskul, or even groups like Emerald Street Boys would have weighted the History section and left the rest of the film (current and future) feeling empty.

Whatever difficulties the film had, however, it is unfair to drop those on the young men behind this film. As was mentioned at the top of the review, however, it is ambitious that Celski and Torok even did this film at all. Even if the film is imperfect, what they tried to do is something no one has really done before. That certainly bodes well for them as directors and producers - original thinking will surely bring positive outcomes.


  1. Just to let you know I dropped by. I enjoy your essay on rap. Momoe