“The Hip Project”, presented by Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah and featuring Russell Simmons, is a documentary which was the official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival and won Best Documentary at the Savannah and Harlem Film Festivals. It won Audience Awards at the UrbanWorld Vibe Film Festival and the Zurich Film Festival.
The film, which plays more like a narrative, tells the story of Chris ‘Kazi’ Rolle who launched the Hip Hop Project at Art Start, a non-profit outreach organization in New York City. The goal of the project was to provide inner city teenagers with the opportunity to write and produce a collaborative hip hop album.
Kazi begins the film with his rap which summarizes his goal and mission: “My name is Chris Rolle, better know as ‘Kazi’. My mother didn’t want me so I flew to the streets. Stole everything from food to eat to the shoes on my feet. From nothing I rose to leave my mark on this globe. To give back so others wouldn’t have to go through it, to use music as the conduit”.
Kazi’s story alone is a true immigrant’s story of being abandoned by his only parent his mother, coming from another country into the U.S. and being forced to do whatever it takes at 14 to survive. He gets involved with petty crimes to make money but, finally realizes his passion for Hip Hop. “The criminal mind is a creative mind” Kazi states and the goal is to channel that into positive actions. He decides he wants to be a positive example to youth showing that through hip hop you can share your personal stories and help inspire others.
It’s refreshing to see Kazi develop the project implementing a curriculum that involves respect and encouraging rap that’s original and personal staying clear of the same ol’ gangsta rap or materialism that is so prominent in mainstream hip hop. Kazi challenges the youth to dig deeper within themselves to hopefully inspire others. The program begins with a 3-year self development plan including self reflecting, meditating and various effective exercises to grow as an adult prior to recording the album.
Throughout the entire film we follow the personal stories of two of the youth, Cannon and Princess. Both are dealing with extreme hardships with Cannon losing his mother to MS and potentially losing the apartment he lives in. “When you feel like you don’t have anything in the world, your hip hop is a sense of ownership”. Princess raps about her abortion she had while dealing with getting her high school diploma, moving on to college and dealing with her imprisoned father’s fate.
With some help from Russell Simmons and Bruce Willis to move into a larger more equipped studio the project is on it’s way but, the film shows that when faced with all the tools one needs to achieve our goals, sometimes fear of success gets in the way. Ultimately, the audience follows brand new trials and tribulations along with new struggles and emotions brought on by the opportunities of “The Hip Hop Project”.
The stylish and slick production value of “The Hip Hop Project” visually compare to a long form music video but, it’s the personal stories and goals of the main featured characters that come together because of their passion for hip hop and the opportunities they are given. You become invested in these stories and lives making “The Hip Project” a story that transcends hip hop but, further legitimizes hip hop as the music of our generation that has impacted so many youth.
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