From the beginning, “The Otherside” — director Daniel Torok’s documentary about “Seattle’s underground hiphop scene” — seems to attempt the impossible, to tell the story of a community with an erratic 30-plus-year history in a 49-minute runtime.
Though there are brief mentions and a summarizing montage of Seattle hip-hop’s true roots early on, rather than examining things from a historical perspective, Torok’s film basically takes a snapshot of the three-year period, beginning in 2010, in which it was shot. (Sir Mix-A-Lot’s interview segment, for instance, was shot a week prior to the film’s SIFF premiere.) Understandably, it gets a little bit caught up in the moment it intends to capture.
A great deal of the documentary’s focus — including the title credits and much of the ending sequence — falls on the city’s suddenly nationally-renown poster boy, Macklemore, but as firsthand witnesses of his historic rise to chart-topping platinum status can attest, it’s mostly justified. At the start of filming, Macklemore was opening for Blue Scholars at their sold-out hometown shows, by the end he’s a household name who’s performed on “Saturday Night Live” and is responsible for the first platinum rap single out of Seattle since Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction, two of Seattle’s other more widely recognized musical exports, are notably missing from the film, and though Torok confirmed that both parties were in the initial final cut, both opted out after seeing. None of them would offer any comment or reason for the last-minute editing decision. Nacho Picasso, another local rapper who has gained the attention of national blogs and publications (and helped pioneer a significant new local wave of dark, gloomy antihero rap) since his late-2011 “For the Glory” collaborative release with Blue Sky Black Death, is also absent until the film’s final moments, when he and fellow Moor Gang members Jarv Dee and Gift Uh Gab appear in footage from Sam Lachow’s “Young Seattle Part 2” video.
With these key omissions, it’s hard to not see “The Otherside” as Macklemore’s movie. But it’s likely just as hard for those outside of the local scene to see Seattle as anything but Macklemore’s city, at this particular moment. Torok’s film accurately captures this. And to those upset with these results, the director suggests, “If [other artists] don’t want Macklemore to represent the sound of Seattle, then they need to get on their grind and make sure that they represent their sound to the rest of the world.”