In Livingston, Montana—which has a population of 7,279 and is almost all white, with nearly 40 percent of those whites living below the poverty line (according to this documentary)—there is an amazing rapper. His street name is Tommy 2 Tone. His life has not been easy, he smokes Marlboros like a fiend, he has tattoos all over his left arm, he is bald like a skinhead. Tommy 2 Tone has done some time, has four kids, is dealing with meth, and is fully dedicated to this formula: "My joy, my pain, my life/My beats, my words, my mic" (D.Black, "Let It Go"). More incredible yet, despite the isolation of his town and having had little to no interactions with black Americans, Tommy 2 Tone is a solid rapper. He is not only good, he puts his whole heart into it. This is not about a young man going through a phase in his life; this is about a huge personal investment in an art.
Tommy 2 Tone is one of three rappers featured in the documentary Where You From. What the rappers have in common is they are white and come from rural parts of Northwest America—admittedly, one of the rappers, Chris, is half white and half Filipino. The documentary, which is directed by Sabrina Lee and photographed by Matthew Buzzell, has a distinct aesthetic or mood (somber snow, rural dusks, isolated farms); and the featured rappers (who are interviewed in living rooms, bars, roads) are committed to giving a realistic account of this slow and lonely world that is far from city life—Bozeman, Montana, is 700 miles from a major city.
The importance of this documentary, which is a part of Northwest Film Forum's Local Sightings festival, is that it shows the real impact of the internet on geographic space. The rural rappers and producers are not just making shit up; they know how to rap, scratch, and program fresh beats (one producer has a hardcore studio in the basement of what looks like a farmhouse). With the internet, you can keep up with the rest of the world wherever you are.