The Hip Hop Project (2006)
Filmmaker: The film strives for an authenticity and level of emotion not seen in many of modern-day crime films. How did you go about getting into Simon’s head, and building out his story?
Ruskin: The lead actor,
How Do You Know, on the other hand, hasn’t been quite as lucky. Earlier this week Sony found their film slapped with an R-rating, on account of the film’s usage of the word ‘fuck’ three times. After losing an appeal to overturn the rating,
Want to know more? As the directorial debut of Matt Ruskin, The Hip Hop Project focuses on the first cohort of students to pass through Kazi's program. The film provides little detail on how Kazi started the Hip Hop Project but it is clear that he was helped by generous donations of time and facilities. In his interviews he gives particular praise to Robin 'Kheperah' Kearse, a speaker on hip hop, youth empowerment and personal development.
The film, executive produced by Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah, follows the once-homeless rapper as he helps a group of poor New York teens deal with their frustrations by making a hip-hop album. Project follows their four-year journey, including studio time funded by Willis and producer Russell Simmons.
Six of the panel's eight members agreed to change the rating, which was issued for the film's language. "We decided to appeal the R rating to allow teenagers access to see this film because they are the ones who need it most," said Rolle, founder of the offscreen Hip Hop Project. "After years of working with teens, I know you have to reach them when they are young. Just as I didn't have a parent to take me to the movies when I was a teenager, many of the young people who would benefit most from this film would have been denied access if the R rating stood."
Ruskin told the board, "This motion picture is a call to end the destructive forces of violence, misogyny and criminality that dominate the music our children are listening to."
In a recent statement from his Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Simmons expressed similar sentiments and called for the elimination of the n-word, "ho" and "bitch" in rap lyrics.
Directed by Matt Ruskin, Hip Hop revolves around of Chris Kharma Kazi Rolle, an abandoned and homeless New York teenager who grew up to develop an outreach program for troubled teens to help each other and express themselves through hip-hop. As Kazi and two of his students attempted to create their own album, rap entrepreneur Russell Simmons and Bruce Willis donated a recording studio to their Hip Hop Project. Rapper Doug E. Fresh also makes an appearance in the chronicle of the youths' four-year struggle.
"We are extremely impressed by this film, which blends classical themes of salvation and self-discovery, with utterly contemporary sights and sounds," ThinkFilm head of U.S. theatrical Mark Urman said. "Not since our own 'Born Into Brothels' have I seen such a powerful and entertaining story about young people and the redemptive power of art."
The docu will be released in theaters in the spring, and will be introduced this week at the American Film Market by the company's ThinkFilm International division.
After premiering at this year's Tribeca Film Festival with the initial title Word.Life: The Hip-Hop Project, the film won the audience award at the Urbanworld Vibe Film Festival and Zurich Film Festival, as well as the best docu award at the Harlem International Film Festival.
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