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  • Writer's pictureLarry Madrigal


The Bay Area has always been home to a wide array of cultures and a long history of social movements. One countercultural movement you might not have heard of, however, is the Hyphy Movement. Director Laurence Madrigal and his crew are here to change that with their documentary We Were Hyphy.

I’m going to be up front with you: I’m not big into hip-hop or rap. I respect it, I appreciate it and I listen to a handful of songs and artists, but for the most part its sound isn’t something I grew up on, and it’s hard for me to get into it. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in learning about it, though, and We Were Hyphy immediately caught my attention.

“Let me tell you a story about a movement that almost was,” says the opening narration. A supercar burns out in a parking lot, creating a cloud of smoke that drifts in front of the camera. A group of voices sing in the background of the sound mix. Already, hyphy has been established as the stuff of legend, an epic story lost to time. We get a montage of news clips providing particular cultural context around the movement at its peak, shots of more sideshow cars burning out and dancers as the credits pass.

We’re then introduced to our narrator, Benjamin Earl Turner, a man who came of age in the Bay Area during the Hyphy Movement. The narration and its function as a framing device really works for me here. The way the film’s transitions and photo-slide montages are edited with Turner’s relaxed-but-knowledgeable narration brings the whole film together. This is good because the film needs it, but we’ll get to that later.

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