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Hip Hop Project - Interview with Director and Star

Hip Hop Project Interview by the Popcorn Review Team

Brett and Robert from the Popcorn Review Team sat down with the guys from "The Hip Hop Project," director Matt Ruskin and star Chris "Kazi" Rolle to chat about their new movie This was TPR's first interview and it was really great meeting these guys and talking about the movie and how they made this project happen...

Brett: You went from Production Assistant in "Requiem for a dream" to director with nothing in between, how was the transition?

Matt: I made other films. I was involved in a semester of filming making abroad in Ireland through NYU. I was shooting more than 50 hours of an environmental protest there. When I came home I spent a year making my first documentary. That is how I fell in love with the process of making documentary films. I showed it at a couple of film festivals and Irish television. That work was the introductory point to getting me involved with this project. My film making partner Scott was looking for somebody to collaborate with and saw this film, treat The Hip Hop Project with similar way and integrity he would be pleased.

Brett: You looked like you were good at motivating your crew; being on the phone with them at 3 or 4 am, so what did you do to keep yourself motivated?

Kazi: I had some places like a holistic health center in Brook called Heal thy Self, and then my martial arts instructor had a school which included Japanese martial arts and African martial arts, and I had a support group in the theater group I was in. Being around them really gave me a charge.

Brett: What is your next project?

Matt: I have spent every waking minute on this film, trying to get it out into the world. There are a lot of films I like to make both dramatic features and documentary, but the development will start after this release in early June. I have a few ideas but haven't had the time to go over them.

Brett: Kids are going to drop out or have already dropped out of this program. What has happened to those kids?

Kazi: Some of the kids just wanted to go to school. Some life changes such as getting married, none of kids have gone jail or anything that. We teach many life skills on how to overcome situations. You can tell me what you want to and I will tell you how you can turn it business. Sometimes you can give a person idea and they can run with it. We have had a few people be able to that. There are people who are satellites they are people not in the program or in the circle but are satellite, they call me or keep in touch with people in the circle. They are doing their own thing or part of another program. A kid called me, Muhammad he works with Russell Simmons on Hip Hop summit action network and he came to the program and he got with Russell Simmons and he has been able to help me out on certain things.

Brett: How has the success that is happening changed your life?

Matt: I have been busier than I have ever been.

Kazi: This man does not sleep.

Matt: In terms of opening door and subsequent opportunities I don't what is going to be out there.

Brett: More Personal in Life?

Matt: It started before there were big name producers, partner with Scott Rosenberg, the privilege of merging my labor and my love. Then my day job became film making, my entire life changed. I felt that I had the opportunities to realize my will and eat in the process and I still feel to this day and everyday extraordinary lucky to be able to that and not have to work 2 or 3 jobs to keep that going.

Brett: How has changed for your life? Being from the streets to this transition?

Kazi: More confidence and self-value.

Matt: Neither of us our rich yet.

Kazi: Self value, I went to do a work shop today with the publicist she took me over to a program. I see myself and some of the young people putting their head down. What I had to say was not important. Even starting the project I was a shy and confident person. I always knew I could do something but was shy wasn't necessary sure of my self, with the response of the people I would look up to Russell Simmons, Bruce Willis, every little accomplishment made me stand up a little straighter and stuff like that.

Brett: My experience with artist not just TPR not are only project, the artist put everything off the last possible second of a minute. How do you overcome that without pissing them off?

Matt: Overcome without pissing who off?

Brett: The artist, the rappers the people who say "oh yea I'll get that done next week" and next week comes and you're like "dude what's up"?

Kazi: Guilty.

Matt: I have always done better when there are boundaries and deadlines and budget constrictions. Having those kinds of boundaries helped to keep things moving in a way. In the film one of the things I liked, was that I got to witness the artistic process. I was removed from it; it wasn't my artistic process it was theirs. One of my favorite's things in the movie is when he is having a discussion about losing motivation, why everyone didn't have their music on time. Having a really honest discussion with them, why they let stuff fall trough the cracks and why they didn't have follow-up. My favorite part about it is that he is speaking from personal experiences. This is something we all struggle with as artist.

Kazi: I always wondered why that was in there.

Brett: What are your suggestions for any upcoming directors or producers?

Matt: Be independently wealthy

Brett: What are you suggestion for any upcoming hip hop artist?

Kazi: Do You. There are so many artist right now that my hope is with this film is to inspire artist to do them instead of try emulating or being a copy cat. Try to be themselves and be original.

Brett: What are your guys take on music, violence games, contributing to Columbine or Virginia or any of the many others, the list goes on and on about stupid people who can't take responsibility for themselves and have to blame another medium?

Matt: The only thing that I would add to that is that in the discussion of hip hop, this really came about from listening to Kazi talk about this a lot of past few days. Is when people point out the misogamy and violence in hip hop music, they are really not looking at film or television and what Hollywood puts out and HBO and other cable networks put out it everyday it is very comparable. So the point that Kazi made the other day this fits the inside the American spectrum actually quite well. With all the pop culture and media that is being created for entertainment. I thought that was contradiction that I hadn't acknowledged before.

Kazi: Same as Matt they are not looking at the whole picture. Hip Hop is a sub culture in a bigger culture.

Brett: When did Queen Latifah come on to the project?

Kazi: She came on during the festival time. I went to her house to screen the movie for her. She was so moved she turned to me gave me hug and you remind me of my mother who is school teacher and said whatever is you need to help get this movie out there. I want to help you make it happen and she came on.

Robert: What message do you have for other rap artists out there who are rapping about the bad stuff (i.e. bitches, hoes, pimping, drugs, money, guns, etc)?

Kazi: Balance. The theme of the film – if the whole world was listening, what would have to say – wasn't something I was making up it was true. Hip hop has the whole world listening across the globe. Now that you do, like stop for second… you have people hanging on your every word. You don't have to change your whole style, just balance it out and add 1 or 2 songs that really say something.

Robert: Bruce Willis made a comment about wanting to see the Art Start programs in other cities. What's being done about that?

Kazi: We are working on it. Art Start is about empowerment and sharing our style, doing things and being able to travel from city to city on this tour and talk to different audiences on our promotional tour, and everybody wants to start their own Art Start program and that stuck out to them. Our philosophy is to use what it is that you do… journalism, film making, music, and just give back. The principle is more the focus than it is about franchises.

Robert: You mentioned that the criminal mind is a creative mind. Do you think that if more kids had projects like this, that is would help clean up our streets?

Matt: Definitely, I think hip hop started because people didn't have an outlet or instruments.

Kazi: It gave kids something to do, keeping them from forming gangs and killing people in the Bronx.

Matt: I remember in "Rhyme or Reason," another documentary with gangs, talking about when we finish dancing or spinning on our head or neck that you are too tired to fight. Hip hop or whatever outlet lets you keep your time occupied.

Kazi: This project is a living example of that being absolutely true. The premise of the project is speaking to people in a language that they understand. Taking a potent way, reaching them and harness it in a creative way. All these kids wanted to be rap stars, se we lured them by saying they could get to write an album. Ninety minutes making an album doesn't resemble anything they would have imaged it would when they started.

Robert: What is your main challenge or words of wisdom for today's impressible youths?

Kazi: I have a song "Do Something" and I try to keep what I tell young people to do real simple. Do Something. Start a clothing drive on your block or sell lemonade like because during that process of accomplishing something or doing something builds confidence, then you want to do something bigger and bigger. I seen it in myself just being able to do one little thing and being involved builds confidence over time. I love the song "Do Something."

Robert: This really isn't a question, but I just wanted to say that I really like that your music is about healing, whereas most of the rap or hip hop out there today is about bad stuff like bitches, hoes, pimping, drugs, money, guns, etc,...

Kazi: Thank you. The thing about this music that really appeals to me is that sublative and how they are saying something that matters to them.

Matt: It is good music; there is content behind what they are saying, genuine and thought provoking versus boring or offensive.

Robert: Do you think that many of the other rap and hip hop artists out there just missed the mark or really just don't understand that the music can be used in this positive way?

Matt: I don't know, I will let the experts think about that. One thing I will say about a lot of the artists that are trying to say something, they miss the fact that you need to make good music so that people want to actually listen to it. I think that they walk this line that is actually new and really impressionable.

Kazi: They try to overload you with their words and sometimes simple works better. I have even had to go that journey myself, which is to simplify what it is you're saying to the public, and artists and a lot of lyricists are gifted human beings that they have the capacity to rap so fast, you have to speed up your brain to even understand them. So I think they have to simplify their music for mere mortals. The pied pipers give something to somebody in a way that they don't know they got something. I think the movie shows that and what's reflective of the movie is that as you're watching it, you may forget that you're watching a documentary. The way they shoot the film, it is so beautiful. I don't know if you remember that scene with the water; I am just riding by in the Bahamas. I just love that scene… the guitar starts playing just beautifully and there's not a bunch of talking heads. I just loved it. We are all about creating a commercially viable product and that has substance and meaning.

Robert: What was it like passing on the torch to your successor when you went on to pursue your own music? Was it a feeling of great triumph that you were able to create such an amazing project and then give it away, or was it a great loss passing on control?

Kazi: It was a little bit of both. I definitely wanted to do other things, but I didn't necessarily finish what I was trying to do and I never left transition/opposition I think. I got some of the concepts that we have in the program, but different levels and the person underneath is to push you out of your spot. So I feel that has happened… Princess has stepped up and I just went to another level in terms. I definitely didn't want to let go and I had to.

Robert: Do you stay in touch with everyone now that you've moved on from the Hip Hop Project?

Kazi: They are calling me as we speak right now. We have a Wu-Tang Clan type of collective, everybody still doing their individual things, but we formed a collective to work on a new album. To use the movie as a platform to do other work and inspire the world through Hip Hop.

Matt: The one thing we are proud of is that all of the net profits from the movie, soundtrack, and DVD are going back into organizations that working with youth.

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