ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Spiritual transformation is the subject of The Hip Hop Project,
a warts-and-all documentary which pulls no punches
Hip Hop CDs
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Books on Rap & Hip Hop
Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994)
Russell A. Porter, Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (1995)
Bakari Kitwana, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture (2003)
Imani Perry, Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (2004)
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The Hip Hop Project
Executive Producers Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah
(Release Date: May 11, 2007)
Cast: Chris “Kazi” Rolle, Diana “Princess” Lemon, Christopher “Cannon” Mapp, Russell Simmons, Bruce Willis, Sway, Doug E. Fresh
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The Hip Hop Project Interview & Review
Chris Kazi Rolle with Kam Williams
Chris Kazi Rolle was born in Nassau, Bahamas and abandoned by his mother as a young child. He grew up in foster care and orphanages before coming to New York at the age of fourteen to reconnect with his biological mother. A turbulent reunion led to his living homeless on the streets of Brooklyn where he began hustling at night to survive though he did continue to stay in school.
In 1996, after graduating from PSRC Performing Arts High School, Kazi began writing, directing and acting with an urban theatre company called Tomorrows Future, fusing hip-hop and drama to relate tales of everyday experiences in the inner city. Three years later, he created Art Starts Hip-Hop Project, an outreach program which connects troubled teens to music industry professionals with the goal of producing their own rap album reflecting real-life issues.
Hes also the architect of Momentum, a hip-hop music label that puts the emphasis on the education and empowerment of its artists. Plus, hes a co-founder of A.P.E.X., a non-profit organization that hosts monthly college preparation workshops and offers a tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Kazi has been featured by Oprah Winfrey on a show with the theme People Who Are Using Their Lives, as he now travels around the country as both a motivational speaker and a performer. Presently, hes working on his highly anticipated debut album, Many Faces.
Here, he talks about The Hip Hop Project, an uplifting bio-pic which chronicles his overcoming the odds of an orphan surviving on the streets and his then going on to serve as a mentor to other unfortunate kids who find themselves in equally-challenging predicaments.
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KW: Whatd you think of the The Hip Hop Project?
Kazi: I love the film. I love it!
KW: Do you think it gives the audience an accurate idea of what your program is trying to accomplish?
KW: Hey, you grew up in the Bahamas until you were about 14. How come you dont have a West Indian accent?
Kazi: You know what I think it was? It was the fact that Ive always dreamed about coming to America, and I used to rap as a little kid, mimicking all the rappers from America. And there was no Bahamian community in the Bahamas that I was aware of or connected to. I think constantly being around Americans, I just wanted to talk like them, I guess, and maybe lose the accent quicker. And I didnt go home for a very long time.
KW: Speaking of home, probably, the most poignant scene in the movie is your reunion with your mom after many years of being estranged. You obviously were eager to bond with her, but she still seemed somewhat distant. How is your relationship with her today?
Kazi: Its good, its evolving. I can walk into the house, if Im ever around on a holiday, and get a nice hug. We talk once in a while, though Im very busy, and so is she. The relationship has evolved a whole lot since that point, and it continues to evolve.
KW: At the end of the movie we learn that youre no longer running the day-to-day operations of the Hip Hop Project. That must be a big loss, because you were its driving force.
Kazi: Im still on the board. Were working towards having the program be its own independent organization, aside from Art Start.
KW: So, what are you up to, then?
Kazi: I just finished my album, Many Faces, and Im working on getting it out there.
KW: Who is your album with, an independent label?
Kazi: Im talking to a few different distributors. But my main focus right now is trying to get people to see the movie. After that, Ill make some decisions.
KW: In the film, you stress the idea of writing lyrics which honestly reflect whats going on in your life. This ought to be excellent timing given the recent backlash against gangsta rap in the wake of the Don Imus controversy.
Kazi: Yeah, I guess it might be divine intervention, but I also think things just go out of style. Some of those rappers will continue to sell, but people are more open and are looking for more from hip-hop right now, and were ready to feed that appetite. I couldnt have planned it any better.
KW: In the film, we see you fall in love with Kheperah. When are you two lovebirds going to tie the knot?
Kazi: Well, its been so crazy, weve got to get past this tsunami of attention and just really spend some time with each other, before we can, like we say, jump the broomstick.
KW: Is your fiancee still working in the music industry?
Kazi: Nah, right now shes working on a book and on an album and shes seeking some opportunities as a motivational speaker. And shes working with me to promote this film.
KW: The film focuses on couple of your protégés, including Princess, who was pregnant. Hows she doing, and whatd she have, a boy or a girl?
Kazi: She had a girl. Her name is Dream. Princess is doing great. Shes running the program, and she actually just finished a book, Me, Myself and I which is about lessons that she learned being a young mother. She continues to run the program and shes also been out on the road promoting the film and our new CD which just dropped yesterday. Its the soundtrack to the film.
KW: How many different performers from the program are there on the soundtrack?
Kazi: Ten. Were getting ready to do a performance tour this summer. So, were looking forward to that. Were forming a Wu-Tang Clan type of collective to continue to spread this message of hope and healing through hip-hop.
KW: And how is Cannon, the other kid prominently featured in the documentary, doing? He was very broken up when his mother, who had Multiple Sclerosis, passed away while you were making the movie.
Kazi: Hes doing better now. Hes actually does a lot of the production on my album, and he continues to produce for the group, and for other artists in the music industry. Hes also an editor over at AOL Music, and he does a lot in the community to raise awareness and funds for such sickness as AIDS and MS. Im very, very proud of him.
KW: What was it like being homeless at such a young age, and how did you survive on the streets?
Kazi: I give thanks for the attention of the movie, but theres so many people going through the same process. It was definitely hard living out there on the streets, but I always had angels and people trying to help me out. For a long time, anywhere I laid my hat was my home. Though the streets were pulling me in one direction, the angels were pulling me the other way. And I think the angels just pulled harder. Now, Ive got my own place, and Im enjoying life.
KW: Are you still in Brooklyn?
Kazi: Yes, sir, Crown Heights!
KW: Do you know where Medgar Evers College is? Thats my old stomping grounds. Nostrand Avenue President Street
Kazi: Yeah, Im right up the block. Im on Sterling. I do college preparation workshops which culminate in a one week-long college tour. Medgar Evers is the only historically-black college in New York City, so we usually do our workshops there. Did you attend that school?
KW: Yeah, but I went there when it was a high school. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Kazi: For folks living in tough situations, like foster care, or the homeless, Id say, Try to surround yourself with people who care. There ARE people out there. Sometimes, it wont be blood relatives, but youve got to surround yourselves with people who tell you that you can be somebody, and that, whatever you need, they will support you. And for folks who want to break into the music industry, Id say, Just be honest in your music. Write music that comes from your heart that represents you. Dont let the radio dictate to you who you should be. Use the internet as a way to find your fan base. Use places like MySpace and FaceBook to promote your stuff right there online. Thats the future of music.
KW: As Im speaking to you on the phone, youre constantly getting interrupted by fans. Are people already noticing you from the movie?
Kazi: Yes, sir! Man, when I walk down the street, I get hugged, and people are asking for autographs. Its beautiful, but the most important thing is that people become inspired to give back.
KW: Whats it like to have Bruce Willis, Queen Latifah and Russell Simmons behind your project?
Kazi: Honestly, I feel honored and very blessed. I appreciate the opportunity. And it validates my stepping out and doing something different from a lot of my peers in the music game, because I didnt know whether people would like it or understand. But along the way, people said, Wow! This is a great thing youre doing, and anything you need, I want to help you.
KW: Is there any question you always wished a reporter would ask you, but nobody ever asks.
Kazi: Yeah, if you had the whole world listening, what would you have to say?
KW: Okay, if you had the whole world listening, what would you have to say?
Kazi: Id say be inspired to take time out to give back to another human being, because youll be surprised what you get back in return. Id also say go and see this movie, because you can make a difference when you buy a ticket, since 100% of the profits for this film will go to organizations working with young people.
KW: Wont you feel bad when the picture makes a lot of money and you dont get a big cut?
Kazi: No, Im a resilient person Im always going to make a way. Because were only on this planet for a limited time, its more important to me that my idea live on past me. If I can create a self-sustaining program, then Im good, my legacys here. Having people like Bruce Willis supporting what Im doing is greater than money. Money can only last for a little while, but the respect and admiration and love that I get from people will last for a lifetime.
KW: Thats a beautiful sentiment. Thanks for the time and good luck in all of your endeavors.
Kazi: Thank you, man.
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The Hip Hop Project
Film Review by Kam Williams
Chris Kazi Rolle was born in the Bahamas where he was abandoned soon after birth by his mother who decided to start over on her own and set out for America. Understandably, Kazi grew up with a hole in his soul, and headed for New York City at the age of 14 to track her down.
But their reunion was to be short-lived and, at 15, the unwanted orphan was kicked out of the house and ended up having to survive by his wits on the hard streets of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He temporarily joined a gang and turned to a life of crime until he hooked up with a program called Art Start.
This self-help group enables troubled teens to channel their frustrations positively by giving them a chance to express their emotions through the rhymes associated rap. The organization even has a recording studio in order to attract aspiring hip-hop artists, though with the goal of getting them to write about the real issues affecting their souls, not ghetto fabulous gangsta fantasies about guns, bling and black-on-black crime.
The upshot is that, with the help of Art Start, Kazi was not only able to heal himself and become a productive member of society, but he then started serving as a mentor to at-risk kids in need of help. This spiritual transformation is the subject of The Hip Hop Project, a warts-and-all documentary which pulls no punches about the prospects of those stuck in poverty while simultaneously making a powerful statement about human potential.
The camera is kind to the now 24 year-old Kazi in the winning way that it captures his infectious enthusiasm as he influences two of his protégés, Princess and Cannon. Pregnant Princess, whose father was recently arrested for drug possession, is writing a song about whether or not to have the child. Cannon, who we learn has been rapping on the subways since 1999, is despondent because his mother has just succumbed to multiple sclerosis without his having a chance to say goodbye to her.
Despite their considerable disadvantages, the triumphant participants in the four-year operation prove that, as Kazi claims, The criminal mind is a creative mind. For they manage to channel their negative experiences constructively by collaborating on a meaningful CD containing insightful personal narratives which touch on a variety of universal themes.
As the closing credits roll, postscripts updating the current status of all the folks weve gotten to know leave you with a sense of satisfaction. Look for cameo appearances by producer Bruce Willis and Def Jam CEO Russell Simmons extolling the virtues of the organization. With 100% of the profits going to non-profit charities devoted to youth, The Hip Hop Project might be the first totally tax-deductible movie.
Excellent (4 stars)
posted 15 May 2007
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Mockingbirds at Jerusalem (poetry Manuscript)
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign. The Economy
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 15 December 2011