Low-budget, scrappy, and a whole lot more insightful than you might suspect from first glance, Damon Dash's Death of a Dynasty is part mockumentary, part satire, and surprisingly, crookedly honest throughout.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach plays Dave Katz, a hip-hop-hungry white boy who snags a gig writing for The Mic, which is one of the more popular rap magazines out there. His assignment is to do a few "insider exposÚs" on the partnership between Damon Dash and Jay-Z, head honchos of Roc-a-Fella Records. Dave wheedles his way into to the rappers' inner circle, hatches a few scoops, and quickly finds himself the hottest columnist and radio host in New York City -- mainly because he was lucky enough to hit the Roc-a-Fella roost as Damon & Jay begin fussin', feudin' and fightin'.
Those expecting a broad and goofy rap-farce in the vein of CB4 or Fear of a Black Hat may find themselves pleasantly surprised to learn that Death of a Dynasty is more interested in poking holes in the "behind closed doors" machinations of the hip-hop industry. Obviously written and directed by those who know the professional rap landscape inside and out, Death of a Dynasty feels as much like an indictment of the modern recording industry as it does a celebration of quality rap music.
Although the three leads (Bachrach, Capone as Damon Dash, and Robert Stapleton as Jay-Z) deliver some consistently strong work, some of Dynasty's best moments come courtesy of the cameo appearances. Carson Daly takes a nice self-deprecating role as himself, annoyed that he cannot get onto the list of a hot nightclub; Rashida Jones steals a few scenes as a no-nonsense magazine editor; and the frequently hilarious Kevin Hart pops up in numerous roles, each of which are pretty damn funny.
Death of a Dynasty is fun stuff, and this is coming from a guy who hasn't bought a hip-hop CD since NWA broke up. And while you don't exactly need to be an expert on rap to appreciate the vibe that Death of a Dynasty is putting out, it's definitely a movie that will work best for the hardcore hip-hop fanatics in the audience. The movie's a clear indication that today's rap stars are well aware of the "game" that's being played between the conception, the recording, and the release of their music -- and also that they're not too proud to poke a little fun at their industry.
Video: TLA Video has released this low-budget scrapper in fairly fine form indeed. The movie is presented in a Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic aspect ratio, and the picture quality is, micro-budget considered, pretty darn solid. Much of the flick was shot with handheld video cameras, but the transfer still delivers a crisp and clean presentation.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo. No complaints on the aural side of the equation. Optional subtitles are available in English.
Extras: Included is a 7-minute featurette entitled Behind-the-Dynasty, which features laid-back comments and general silliness from several of the cast & crew members on set. You'll also get the original Death of a Dynasty theatrical trailer.
Deftly traversing the tightrope between self-congratulatory and outright silly, Death of a Dynasty is smarter than it looks, funnier than you'd expect, and pretty darn scathing in the way it skewers the hip-hop industry with accuracy and exuberance. Fun stuff overall, quadruply so if you're a big fan of the rap stuff.