A few days ago I wrote asking you if Hip Hop was the root of all evil. Last night, I think I got my answer–a resounding NO. Hip Hop can be viewed as an instrument of change and even as something therapeutic. At least that is the way that Chris “Kazi” Rolle of Word.Life: the Hip Hop Project, a new documentary that “follows a once-homeless rapper as he helps a group of poor New York teens deal with their frustrations by making a hip hop album.”
In what is definitely a powerful and, influential documentary Word.Life, Kazi, mentors a group of teens in a program called The Hip Hop Project (HHP), a division of New York organization Art Start. Initially attracted by the promise of recording an album they think will be immediately produced, the young hip hop hopefuls end up in the program four years, during which time they learn to develop their lyrics through personal experience and identification. A girl named Princess writes about the abortion she had when she was younger. Cannon, who watches his mother die of multiple sclerosis during the making of the film, turns his heartache into song.
Kazi developed the program not just to educate and provide opportunity, but to heal as well. HHP functions as a sort of therapy group, as evidenced in the moments where members push themselves through such emotional freestyling that they burst into tears. Additionally, the kids expect their songs to move, motivate and aid others with similarly rough lives.
The movie follows the highs and lows of their quest to finish the production of their album but provides a poignant look at issues affecting the “hip hop generation.” It’s not about guns, violence, or sex but rather about family, perseverance, trust, and love—subjects that cross all racial and socioeconomic barriers.
Last night Mary Lafayette and I had the pleasure of attending the premier of this movie at midtown’s City Cinemas 1-2-3, which was hosted by the Vibrant man himself, Q-Tip. The star-studded affair boasted attendees including Mona Scott, Busta Rhymes, Ice-T (the father of Gangsta Rap) and his wife Coco, the immortal Doug E. Fresh, Taimak (the Last Dragon), Scratch, Bruce Willis and the first graduating class (and the faces in the movie) of Hip Hop Project.
There are few films now-a-days that I feel the need to herald to the world. This happens to be one of them. Word.Life is a movie that I feel that lovers and haters of hip hop should see. Not only because of the recent bad press the music genre has been receiving but because of the message that the film is portraying. Word.Life debuts in theatres on May 11. For more information, check out: http://www.art-start.org/hhp.html.