By Daneil Ucko
Straight out of New York City comes a group of troubled
teenagers who learn to balance family, school, and life on the
streets with their musical talents and ambitions.
“The Hip Hop Project,” a new documentary coming to theaters May
11, tells the powerful tale of how Chris “Kharma Kazi” Rolle
inspired and united a group of struggling teenage rappers.
Executively produced by Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah, “The Hip
Hop Project” brings us Doug E. Fresh, Diana “Princess” Lemon,
Christopher “Cannon” Mapp, and five other aspiring emcees; all of
whom learn to use music to transcend the issues in their lives.
From the captivating scenes of group prayer and lyric sessions
to the honest takes on street life in the city, directors Matt
Ruskin and Scott K. Rosenberg show us how Rolle teaches the eight
teenagers to think first and sing later.
Rolle provides them with personal, musical and life guidance in
order to not only hone their microphone skills but also to keep
their lives together as they attempt to jumpstart their potential
“My dream was to create a program where young people can start
healing through hip-hop music,” said Rolle in the film about the
Hip Hop Project, a program he created in 1999 to give young people
confidence in their abilities and skills for their futures.
The film flows like the rhymes within, cutting back to the
struggles the principal characters deal with in their everyday
lives every time something new is achieved within the project.
Started under the umbrella of educational support group Art
Start, Rolle’s Hip Hop project helps the teens transform their
emotional angst into words about not only their own lives, but
about the world they live in.
Through pieces of each artist’s life, scenes of the group
collaborations, close-up interviews and clips of rap performances,
Ruskin and Rosenberg do not allow for a dull moment.
However, the real inspiration comes from the back-story of
Rolle’s own life when we see him reconnect with his mother who had
abandoned him as a child.
The unsettlingly feeling of a mother’s lack of emotion towards
her son leads Rolle to tears and puts the audience in
“I can’t rise if I got weight on me so I gotta make some
changes,” said Rolle in the film as he transitioned back into the
studio, helping a ragtag group create a precise production in the
form a professional record, The Hip Hop Project Vol. I.
From the standpoint of a musician or music lover, there is a
complaint about the documentary failing to show where the melodies
and beats come from. For a movie with such a focus on music, it
would have been nice to learn something about how they matched the
lyrics to the music.
However niche-oriented “Hip Hop Project” may be, it is an honest
story filled with hope and power fitting for people of all
Anyone who has ever had a dream can find something in “Hip Hop”
to start believing in themselves again.
Daniel Ucko can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or
by phone at (909) 869-3744.
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