After the half-decent Bullet Boy and the awful-but-entertaining Kidulthood comes the next urban Britflick in line. Life & Lyrics is the tale of Danny, a cash-strapped DJ trying to make a living and push his crew forward to win a local freestyle competition. At the same time he's trying to sort out his relationship with Carmen, a rich north London girl who just happens to be the cousin of one of the Hard Cash Crew, his camp's bitter rivals.
Danny's challenge is to successfully juggle these two priorities. His mates don't approve of his new girl 'cause of her family connections and the amount of time he's spending with her while Danny's got his own commitment issues to deal with (adopted, blah blah, trust issues, blah blah, inferiority complex 'cause she's better off than him, blah blah). The result is a storyline deeply riddled with clichés and always easy to predict several steps ahead. Light relief comes from the battle rap sessions where some entertaining one-liners are thrown out (lyrics written by MC Riz apparently) but even these feel tacked together and far too much of the film concentrates on the slow-moving and uninteresting relationship between Danny and Carmen.
Though not as watchable as his performance in Bullet Boy, Ashley Walters still does a decent job (certainly better than the cane-rowed knob from Hollyoaks who makes an unwelcome appearance as the ridiculously named Playboy) but after these two and Fiddy's Bulletproof, he'll really need to stretch himself a bit in his next role to avoid becoming irrevocably typecast.
Other faults aside, the biggest problem with Life & Lyrics is the unrecognizable image of London's hiphop scene it presents. Here's a world where a freestyle battle competition attracts every kid from miles around and the winners are guaranteed career success and a major label record deal. Someone needs to holla at Stig and let him know he's rocking the wrong shows. Here's a city where an estate-raised south London hip-hop crew turn up to their big night in bright blue matching 80s-style Adidas tracksuits, ending up looking more like Goldie Lookin Chain than Choong Fam. Worse still, here's a London where you walk into hiphop club and dudes (again in matching outfits) are doing synchronised dance routines in the middle of the floor. Obviously the writer hadn't noticed that the standard London dance move is the too-cool-to-shock-out self-conscious headnod.
Add some jerky editing and a soundtrack of substandard tunes from the southern US with the barest sprinkling of Sway and Kano and the resulting mess lacks any credibility or resonance. You get the feeling that the writer watched 8 Mile, Juice, Boyz n the Hood etc and thought he could translate the format to the UK without any concept of the cultural nuances and differences between here and the States. A British hip-hop film that will be best enjoyed by people who aren't British and don't like hiphop.
Words by Llewellyn Radley.