'Death of a Dynasty': Rapper's Delight

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

Aiming to be a hip-hop version of "This Is Spinal Tap," the Damon Dash-directed mockumentary "Death of a Dynasty" is, like the music it parodies: aggressive, over-the-top, louder than life and in your face. And insider-y to the extreme: Made in 2003 but not released until now, it imagines a personal and corporate fracture at the Roc-A-Fella media empire co-founded by Dash (played frenetically by rapper Capone ) and rapper Jay-Z (played subdued by comedian Robert Stapleton). Ironically, after the film was made, Dash and Jay-Z parted ways when the Roc-A-Fella label was sold to Def Jam and Jay-Z was named head of both labels; Dash now heads Dame Dash Music Group and Dame Dash Films (which released "Dynasty" and the recent "State Property 2"). The two hip-hop moguls remain partners in the hugely successful Rocawear clothing line and Armadale vodka, both of which feature largely in the film.

"Dynasty" follows the trail of Dave Katz (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a white reporter for the Mic ("It's like the Source . . . of information in the hip-hop community") who starts not knowing the players and soon thinks he's become one. As "Dave-ski" digs deeper and deeper into the hip-hop world, and the apparent rift, his wannabe speech and fashion sensibilities get sillier and sillier, as does the film. It gleefully sends up oversize entourages, hip-hop fashion and slang, rappers' fixations on bikini-bottomed arm candy, makeovers in the Hamptons and many elements familiar from rap videos, music channel documentaries and hip-hop magazines.

Little-known comedians play rappers, rappers play other rappers (P. Diddy gets shafted several times), and there are countless cameos by rappers playing themselves (including Run and the late Jam Master Jay in rocking chairs, reminiscing about the old nonviolent days), along with media and sports celebrities, as well as director James Toback playing Def Jam exec Liar Schloen (in real life, Lyor Cohen) and vaporous actress-model Devon Aoki as Picasso, a piece of work of art or something like that. The film also satirizes "dis" songs and hip-hop radio as weapons of promotion and/or destruction, leading to a violent final confrontation of the kind that's been all too real in the last few years, but here gets turned into a widescreen "Punk'd" exposé with a message. Well shot and edited, "Death of a Dynasty" is hardly a comedy classic, but it's frequently on target.

Death of a Dynasty (R, 91 minutes) --Contains pervasive language, and some drug and sexual content. Area theaters.

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