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A review of Ghostride the Whip (2008)

Though not particularly cohesive, this 2005 offering from DJ Vlad does provide a unique insight into the little known Hyphy movement of Bay Area, California.

The film

It is an accepted inevitability that when a documentary maker starts a project, they can never be certain of where it might lead. This is how it should be if directorial bias is to be reduced to an acceptable level. However, in a business where investors want a complete picture upfront, it can lead to problems. It seems that Ghostride the Whip, in name alone, suffers from this problem. Ostensibly, a piece about the urban activity of Ghostin' is that it develops into a study of the surrounding youth movement, popularly known as Hyphy, and then narrows its focus to become a mini-biography of Bay Area rapper, Mac Dre. Nevertheless, as long as you can accept this progression, there is a lot to be gained from the film. The extensive use of found and archive footage, which might normally dull such a piece, proves to be its biggest asset. From the early scenes depicting the birth of the Black Panthers to the handicam clips of underground parties and Sideshows, the film presents a culture in change from the inside.

Getting Hyphy

The film's greatest success is in portraying the spirit, roots and energy of the Hyphy movement. Often referred to as the East-coast answer to G-funk, Hyphy is a fusion of music, drug, fashion and dance culture that emphasises impulsive, child-like energy over detached coolness , and so contrasts with the LA movement. Though the scene gained momentum in the early 2000s, it can be traced back to 80s rappers MC Hammer and Too $hort, whose party-friendly music shared many of Hyphy's characteristics. The film draws parallels to the Hippie culture, which dominated the region in the 1960s, citing its advocacy of civil disobedience, recreational drugs and freedom of expression.

What exactly is ghost-riding?

Unless you're a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, or an avid scholar of E-40 or Family Force 5 lyrics, you may not have heard the term 'ghost ride the whip.' Put simply, in local patois, 'the whip' is a car, so someone driving that car is said to be 'riding whip'. If you were to step out of the car while it was still in motion and dance around or on 'the whip', you would be 'ghost-riding' it. Like most urban cultural phenomena, ghost-riding began life on street corners as part of the sideshows. In these events, large crowds would form at crossroads to watch drivers perform outlandish tricks with their cars, ghost-riding started as an element of side-showing, but grew to become an independent activity.

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