Saturday, February 06, 2010

Family Rap: P-Star Rising

Rapping under the moniker P-Star, young Priscilla Star Diaz had already experienced enough during her relatively brief career to fill at least one episode of Behind the Music before landing her current Electric Company gig. Managed by her ex-rapper single father Jesse, P-Star’s music has been the Diaz family business. Their ups and downs are chronicled in Gabriel Noble’s documentary P-Star Rising (trailer here), which now airs on PBS’s Independent Lens, following its premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

In many ways, Diaz seems like the stage mom from Hell, but he understands how difficult it truly is to make it in the music business. He was close, coming up in the very first wave of 1980’s old school rappers, only to be undone by drugs. He went to prison and his girlfriend slid ever further into addiction, consigning Priscilla and her sister Solsky to foster care.

To Diaz’s considerable credit, he cleaned himself up and won back custody of his children. In his way, he is undeniably a caring parent. However, when watching Rising, it is hard to not question some of his choices, particularly the degree to which he pins their financial future on P-Star’s rapping career. In the process, she comes into contact with some of the unsavory aspects of the hip-hop world, including drug use (although nothing objectionable is ever seen on screen). Still, everything seems to have paid off when P-Star goes platinum. Predictably though, just as they think they have made it, the industry throws them a hard curve (when of course they have nothing saved in the bank).

Noble scrupulously avoids editorial judgment, simply presenting intimate footage of the Diaz family’s lives, shot over a four year period. Everyone makes mistakes and appears thoroughly unsympathetic at times, which means Noble probably captured a very real and complete portrait of his subjects. We see them warts and all, which is why it is rewarding to see them come together as a family. In fact, for all the focus placed on P-Star’s career, arguably Rising’s central driving storyline is the search for the Diaz sister’s formerly (and perhaps still) drug addicted mother.

Though there are heated debates over repertoire, P-Star sounds like a pretty credible rapper, who might even win a few converts to her brand of reggaeton seasoned hip-hop, but it is important to remember she is still just a kid. The portrait that emerges of her and her father in Rising is indeed imperfect and often frustrating. That’s how people really are in life. Depicting a not-so unconventional family in a frankly cutthroat business with commendable honesty, Rising is worth checking out when it airs as part of the current season of Independent Lens this coming Tuesday (2/9) on most PBS outlets.