So who is Tragedy Khadafi ? That was the question hovering in the back of my mind as I sat down at the Royal Cinema for the feature film Tragedy: The Story of Queensbridge . As the theatre slowly began to fill up and as the smell of freshly popped corn swirled about me, I pondered the question.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a die-hard ‘hip hopper’ but I know my fair share and when I think of Queensbridge, my thoughts instantaneously shift to Nas and Mobb Deep. But, Tragedy Khadafi? The name just didn’t ring any bells. So I waited anxiously, shifting in my seat.
The film , featured at the opening night of Toronto’s North By North East festival, tries during the 80 minutes to convince the audience that the heart and soul of Queensbridge rap lies in rapper Tragedy Khadafi (born Percy Chapman).
Filmmaker Booker Sims chooses to have Tragedy narrate much of his life story from behind the walls of prison where, at the time of filming he was locked up on charges of parole violation. Sims depicts the troubled, violent and poor childhood of Tragedy as the basis for his (and the other more mainstream rappers of Queensbridge) lyrics.
Creatively interwoven in the film are images of Tragedy with the likes of Mobb Deep and Capone & Noreaga in the early stages of their careers, working and rhyming to bring rap and the Queensbridge name to new heights.
Sims goes to great lengths to portray Tragedy as the foundation for the Queensbridge rap scene. We see and hear from members of the Queensbridge community in their worn homes, on the front benches of the 96 buildings that make up the Queensbridge, all insisting the skills and lyricism of Tragedy put him in the leagues of the best of the best in the rap game. Tragedy himself often talks about being the ‘father of QB rap’, which is echoed several times over by those closest to him throughout the film.
Where the film slightly falters is in the obvious absence of, the often mentioned and referred to, Nas. During the question period after the film Sims quickly explains this omission by stating the difficulties involved in contacting Nas for an interview. He also added that it was rumored Nas will be making his own Queensbridge documentary. Definitely something to watch out for.
What Sims and Tragedy do best with this film is bring the realities of rap game success to the forefront. It acts as a clear reminder that for every Jay-Z, Nas or big name success story, there are countless Tragedy Khadafis behind the scenes waiting and hoping to see their own names up in lights.
I left the theatre thinking this is a film of peaks and valleys.