In the continuing need for media mogul Russell Simmons to produce an HBO show and put the word “Def” in front of it, musician Mos Def approached Simmons with the opportunity to present a weekly show for urban spoken word artists to show off their wares. And surprisingly, not only has the show survived, but has thrived into a fourth season that has come out on DVD, with ten episodes in all, split over two discs.
The layout of the show is pretty straightforward, as Mos Def introduces the beginning and end of the shows and the acts in between. The latter is mostly done on a voiceover, however he does introduce the acts on stage from time to time. The show usually ends with a more recognizable name at the end, along with some words of wisdom by Simmons himself. And while most of the acts appear to be people who spend their time on anti-Israel message boards and in Starbucks whipping up vente lattes, the familiar names are fairly eclectic. Among the people you’ll recognize are Ani Defranco, Kanye West, Ruby Dee and KRS One.
As one whose knowledge of spoken word is fairly limited to the works of Henry Rollins, I’ve gotta say that the artists themselves talk about things that just make them angry. God, cheer up, have a cookie! I understand the reasoning for this show and it’s definitely a pleasant alternative if you don’t like rap all that much, but many of the performers are those that one would presume are on the corner of a pub in a upper middle class neighborhood, railing against the earns of the wealthy. But I could be wrong. And with the way it’s set up, it looks an awful lot like the poetry “slams” that Mike Myers’ character does in So I Married an Axe Murderer. The show itself is a noble effort, but one whose audience is clearly in its own niche.
The only option you’ve got is a 2 channel stereo mix. It doesn’t sound too bad quite frankly, the music that’s here acts as background music and sounds a little better than expected, but it’s spoken word, so everything sounds as good as it’s going to.
Full frame 4:3 viewing for you to enjoy, just like on the broadcasts. If it were in widescreen and in HD, it would be too mainstream of course, but it looks fine here.
Nary a supplement to cross the eyes and ears of this concerned yet interested scribe my lord! Seriously, there’s nothing on either disc.
Season Four of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry is a little bit hit or miss when it comes to the acts that appear and the material that’s performed. I like the idea of the show, but the artists I can do without. I’m sure that HBO is probably re-airing this a truckload of times, so I’d recommend checking it out on TV first before taking the plunge.