Music producer Rippa has a talent for making beats, but personal and professional setbacks threaten to derail his career before it gets of the ground. Directed by LaRon Austin, Step Off, aka Battle, oversells itself as a mashup of 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow, and it lacks the slick talent of those films. But, despite its gritty demeanor, Step Off is a decently entertaining look at the oft-unseen world of the music producer.
After a former partner steals his beats and makes it big, Rippa (Conrad Clifton) considers packing up his turntables and silencing his sound forever, but Rippa's friend and manager Jay (Chris Burns) convinces him to seek a spot in a beat battle that offers the winner a hefty cash prize and a record label internship. As he prepares for the beat battle, Rippa must find the cash to stay in school and support his son and deal with unfriendly rivals looking to squash his dreams.
The music producer has only recently gained some publicity thanks to big names like Kanye West, The-Dream, RedOne and Diplo, the producers responsible for many entries on the iTunes Top 100. Most casual listeners probably don't know what a producer does, and Step Off doesn't provide the most comprehensive explanation. The basic task of a music producer is to oversee the recording of an artist's music, and his tasks can include beat making, talent wrangling and sample searching. In Step Off, Rippa has an ear for finding the right sample to insert into a driving beat. Rippa doesn't rap or sing, but he does bring the house down with his sound board and pre-mixed clips.
I enjoyed the fresh take on the struggling artist's story in Step Off despite some storytelling missteps. At first, Rippa is pretty unlikable, content to whine about his problems and lash out at those around him, especially his manager. The film gives Rippa a son that he must support but doesn't see and a set of familiar obstacles to overcome on the road to success. Rippa eventually mellows thanks to film student Monique (Onira Tares), who wants to make a hip-hop documentary. When he does, I began caring a lot more about whether or not Rippa made it to the stage in the beat battle finale.
The actors play off of each other well in Step Off, parts of which are pretty entertaining. I wish the film provided more scenes of Rippa at work and less of his appearance in Monique's documentary. The pacing is hurt by all the mid-film chatter, and Step Off feels quite a bit longer than its 102 minutes. The movie also cheats, likely due to budget constraints, and pipes score over many of the early beats from other producers. Fortunately, the beats are all accounted for in the big finale. Step Off won't top the charts anytime soon, but it's at least a B-side worth spinning.
Lionsgate Films serves up Step Off on DVD for Reel One Entertainment with a decent 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film is rough and gritty, with washed out colors and a lot of grain, an appearance likely intended by the director. Blacks are deep and colors don't bleed, but the image is occasionally noisy. I noticed no digital tampering, and detail is usually strong. I also saw more than a few compression artifacts, and some shimmering popped up here and there.
The film's 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track isn't especially active outside of the beat battle scenes, with most effects coming from only the front speakers. Dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, but a minimal amount of hiss is present in quiet scenes. The music is loud and pumping during the aforementioned beat battles, which are about the only time the surround speakers get any action. English and Spanish subtitles also are available.
Extras include deleted and extended scenes (10:09), Journey of a Producer: The Making of Step Off (4:07), Beat Box, which provides four audio-only samples from composer Samuel Abrahamsen, a gag reel and the film's trailer.
Although it's a bit light on scenes of central character Rippa's record producing, Step Off at least attempts to come at the struggling artist's story from a different angle. The main characters interact nicely, and Step Off drops some interesting beats during its several beat battles. Lionsgate's DVD provides decent picture and sound and a few extras. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.