Last Wednesday, Dope Files was invited to view a private screening of The Hip Hop Project at NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center. The Hip Hop Project was a program created in schools by Chris "Kazi" Rolle over 10 years ago, and the film followed the first generation of students during Kazi's experimental project. The students depicted were Princess, L.I.V.E., Cannon, Verse, Ty, and Lou. The Hip Hop Project is backed by Russell Simmons, Bruce Willis, and Queen Latifah, and is still a reigning program in schools today. You can purchase the album on iTunes, and view the documentary on Sundance and Netflix.
See Latasha interview Cannon, Verse, L.I.V.E., and latter product of The Hip Hop Project, Cocoa Sarai. Also in attendance were Ki Major and Divine Bradley, who was the only reggae artist of the program.
Originally from the Bahamas, his mother sent him to America with promises of her return, but disappointed him as she remained in the country with no apology. In a plea for attention, he acted out negatively and was kicked out of his home at 15 years old. Along with becoming a gang member and committing crimes, he wrote rhymes on the train cars he slept in. He was then discovered and managed by Dougie Fresh, but wanted to give back to students rather than focus on his career. He started the Hip Hop Project in 1999 and developed student's music skills, as well as taught them real life values such as dignity, respect, discipline and responsibility. After three years of focusing on self-development in the program, the inspiring rappers were then steered away from the usual messages about being gangsta and cracking jokes in their music, but encouraged to share their personal and painful stories.
With a passion for hip hop at 15 years old, Cannon struggled maintaining his love for rap, with his mother's failing health due to multiple sclerosis, and his failing grades in school. He became a drug dealer to make money, and received the news of his mother's passing while in class. To think that's as worse as it would get for him, his landlord tried to evict his family for new tenants who'd pay more money for their apartment, and with the extreme help and support of his grandmother, he helped raise his siblings while trying to do well in school, while battling the landlord in court. He's now a successful songwriter and producer for artists such as Jaheim, Justin Beiber, Naughty by Nature, and does work for children's commercials.
Princess was a 17 year old high school student who's father was taken to prison. When Kazi first met her, he said her skill "wasn't good" and she couldn't rap on beat. He stayed close to her to develop her skill, and she shared her personal struggle of having an abortion and losing her father to free herself through music and ease the pain. Her parents' life inspired her to never settle and get more out of life, and The Hip Hop Project encouraged her to continue to college. She ended up being a program director for the second generation of Hip Hop Project students.
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