THE HIP HOP PROJECT
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

a generational thing, since I've always
tended toward the music of bygone eras. Even
when I was growing up, I wasn't a big fan of
most of the rock music. Not that I cannot
appreciate hip hop or some of the artists who
perform it. It just isn't my thing. Still, I'm
game to broaden my horizons, so I went into
the press screening of
THE HIP HOP PROJECT
with an open mind -- and was pleasantly
surprised.

The film centers on 'Kharma Kazi' (né
Christopher Rolle) whose life story would
probably make a compelling film. Abandoned by
his mother in his native Bahamas, he spent time
in orphanages before finding a foster family.
Eventually, at age 14, he came to the United
States -- specifically New York City -- to find his
mother. Strife ensued and it wasn't long before
Rolle was homeless and living on the streets.
Instead of succumbing to societal pressures,
though, he was able to find himself via a
program known as Art Start, an organization
started in 1991 by Scott Rosenberg (who
co-directed this film with Matt Ruskin) with the
stated goal to "value and nurture the voices,
hearts, and minds of under-served children and
teenagers and help them transform their lives
through the creative process."

Kazi found Art Start, and it isn't much of an
exageration to say it helped to give him a
purpose in life. He went on to start his own
program,
THE HIP HOP PROJECT (HHP), in
1999. HHP allows disparate kids to come
together, create a concept for a hip hop album,
write the lyrics, and eventually produce and
record the songs. The film, shot over the course
of four years, follows the first group of young
men and women as they struggle with life
situations and strive to create the album.

The filmmakers have focused on Kazi and his
journey (including a return to the Bahamas
where he visits the various children's homes and
meets with his foster mother, and a tense
meeting with his mother who doesn't seem to
realize the hurt and pain she caused her child),
as well as on two students, Princess, and
Cannon. Princess juggles school, HHP and
various other commitments. Cannon has to deal
with the slow death of his mother from multiple
scerlosis and its aftermath.

One of the great things about the film is
that Kazi insists that the songs should be
personal and not about some of the usual
subjects that the genre fosters. That sentiment
is reinforced by Russell Simmons, a longtime
supporter of Art Start, who tells the group that
it is boring to hear another rap song about being
a "gangsta." Simmons and Bruce Willis (who
served as executive producer of the movie) also
come to the rescue by donating a recording
studio for the teens to complete their album.

THE HIP HOP PROJECT is a terrific
documentary about a program that aims not
only to create new artists but also to teach
them valuable lessons in life.


 
Rating:                B+
 
MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for language
 
Running time:      85 mins.
Center: Chris 'Kazi' Rolle in
THE HIP HOP PROJECT
© 2007 THINKFilm