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Sacha Jenkins on Rick James Life and Times, the Rise of Music Documentaries, and Hip Hop 50

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Sacha Jenkins

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Sacha Jenkins is a documentarian, a film producer, and a creative director at Mass Appeal. He joins me on today’s show to talk about his most recent documentary titled “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James” and the steps that he took to get that project off the ground. He also weighs in on the boom of documentaries, giving us previews of the projects he is working on now. 

If you want to know more about music documentaries, this is the episode for you!

Episode Highlights:

[02:42] What inspired Sacha to do a project about Rick James and what messages he wanted to convey to viewers

[06:32] Why do some artists act the way they do

[08:48] The process of making a documentary

[11:55] What people don’t know about Rick James

[18:35] How viewers have responded to the documentary

[20:08] Sacha’s thoughts on music by POCs

[24:18] On the rise of music documentaries thanks to streaming

[27:52] Sacha’s dream project

[31:35] About “Hip Hop 50”

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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

Guest: Sacha Jenkins, Mass Appeal

 

Links:

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Transcript

Dan: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. 

 

On today’s podcast, we got Sacha Jenkins, who is a documentarian, film producer, and the creative director and partner at Mass Appeal. And Sacha’s joining us to talk about his most recent documentary which is all about Rick James. It’s called Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James. And if you haven’t checked it out yet, this documentary is on Showtime and it’s a fascinating and raw portrayal of the life and times of Rick James.

 

I mean, if you pause and think about it, it is really fascinating to think about someone like Rick James. If you’re old enough, then you definitely remember how wild this man was, especially in his heyday in the 80s.

 

If you’re a little bit younger, then your discovery point to him may have been through MC Hammer sampling “Super Freak” for “U Can’t Touch This,” and if you’re a millennial, one of your biggest touch points to Rick James may be the Charlie Murphy’s Real Hollywood Story sketch from The Dave Chappelle Show.

 

In a lot of ways, that span and that interest does speak a lot to the Rick James experience. And in this conversation, Sacha and I talk all about that as well. 

 

We also talked about the boom in music documentaries. Obviously, the streaming era has paved way that we’ve seen so many of these, plenty of music documentaries, also plenty of music movies that are happening as well, all of these biopics and how that may have changed things for the type of projects or the type of things that Sacha is working on.

 

We also talked about some of the things he has planned lined up and some of the projects so you’ll hear more about what he has and what he’s already working on now that this documentary is over.

 

So let’s get into it. Here’s my chat with Sacha Jenkins. 

 

Today’s episode of the Trapital Podcast is brought to you by Mighty Networks. If you’re a content creator or an entrepreneur, building a community around your business is key, and you wanna be able to bring it all together in one place. And Mighty Networks has you covered. It is your one-stop shop to bring your content, courses, events all together in one place without integrating with other tools. Join successful creators like Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Wallstreet Trapper, and more. Go to mightynetworks.com to start your 14-day free trial.

 

Interview

 

Dan: All right. Today, we’re joined by Sacha Jenkins, who is a film director, a documentary director that recently put out Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James. First off, congrats on getting the documentary out and I gotta ask, what was the inspiration for you to study Rick James and put out a project about him?

 

Sacha: Well, very simply, the project came across the desks of folks at Showtime and they asked me if I was interested in doing it and, of course, I said yes. Rick James is such an intriguing, prolific, cultural musical figure that it was totally up my alley.

 

Dan: Yeah. So, one of the things in the documentary I thought was good was the balance that you had of being able to navigate both the personal life and all wanting to celebrate all the success that Rick James had accomplished but also navigating his demons and being able to tell that story as well. What was it like balancing that fine line and the work you had to do to make sure that you got that across in the best way?

 

Sacha: Yeah, a few people have asked me that question. My answer is I just rely on journalism. Journalism is something that people have lost sight of these days in the world of fake news and people being confused. There’s no confusion. You want to hear all sides of a story and there’s no, you know, his musical genius, Rick James is a musical genius, it’s undeniable, but there’s no way to deny the fact that he was in trouble a lot. There’s no way to deny that he went to jail for some things that were heinous and some of those things might have informed his music. So, in order to really understand the man, you gotta understand the man and understanding the man goes well beyond understanding his music.

 

Dan: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And I think another interesting point that you had mentioned too was — or you didn’t specifically say this but there was an underlying theme about how there are other people that had either maximized or help maximize the impact of Rick James for different generations or even in other ways.

 

So, for instance, MC Hammer putting out “U Can’t Touch This” and that song ends up making Rick more money than the original “Super Freak” song. And then I think, you know, a decade later, The Chappelle Show reintroduces the legacy of this person to a whole ’nother generation.

 

And it’s interesting to have someone like that who I think, in many ways, either got reintroduced or their success got extended, in a way, because of what other people had done with their art. 

 

Was that a specific thing that you were trying to get through or communicate? Because that was definitely something that I took away with watching the doc.

 

Sacha: Yeah, I knew that that would make him extremely contemporary. I mean, if the “I’m Rick James, bitch” moment happened in today’s climate with social media, it would have been bananas, it would have broken the internet, but he broke the internet at a time when the internet wasn’t as powerful.

 

You had little kids getting suspended for saying, “I’m Rick James, bitch.” It crossed him over to a whole new generation of people who weren’t familiar with him but then, you know, sort of getting in touch with his personality and I think that’s what people are more into these days more than anything. 

 

If you’ve got a big personality, that’s what people are interested in and if you have great music and a big personality, even better. So, those moves on behalf of Rick James kept him in front of all of us for much longer than most artists of his elk in his time.

 

Dan: The irony of that “I’m Rick James, bitch” moment is that a lot of the people around Rick were a bit frustrated by it because they felt like it may be cheapening his legacy that he’s now this Chappelle Show punch line. 

 

But on the other side, Rick himself leaned into it with that appearance that he had at the BET Awards show a few months after. And I thought that was an interesting balance too just because, you know, what the artist ends up doing may be different from how, you know, those pure fans feel about it.

 

Sacha: And artists sometimes do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. I mean, we don’t have Rick James anywhere saying, “Oh, that moment on The Chappelle Show made me feel bad,” or, “I regret doing it,” we don’t have that. So, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

 

He probably felt invigorated and reenergized by the attention that he was getting from a whole new generation of fans. As someone says in the film, David Ritz, the author, fame is a high. When you’re used to having an adulation and people giving you compliments all the time, that’s a high.

 

And for someone like Rick who struggled with addiction, getting that natural high from being recognized had great value for him, I imagine. But, at the same time, did he feel conflicted about it? Maybe he did but we’ll never know but, you know, we have the balance of people who had different perspectives on him in the show.

 

Dan: Right, and I’m sure there’s even the further separation between Rick’s initial impression doing it because he did participate in that Chappelle Show sketch, the Charlie Murphy Real Hollywood Stories, but then where the reaction goes and where it takes it is a completely different thing, right? 

 

It almost reminds me of the musicians, like, let’s say, a group like OutKast, they put out a song like “Hey Ya!” they have their thought of what it’s gonna be like before but then they end up getting so, you know, either frustrated or sick of hearing this song because of the reception of it and that’s one thing that, you know, sounds like you’re alluding to that I feel like is, you know, could be part of this as well.

 

Sacha: It could easily be but we don’t — I don’t know for sure, that’s why I try to give people the opportunity to make their own decisions. When we don’t have a definitive answer, you can deduce yourself what you think it may have been. 

 

I think with the voices we have in the film, that gives you the best — that gives you the sharpest tools to sort of make that kind of assessment for yourself.

 

Dan: I’d like to talk a little bit more about the development and the process of getting this film off the ground. I know that you mentioned you already had a relationship with Showtime, they had reached out to you about it, but what were the steps like in the process?

 

Sacha: Well, you wanna learn all that you can about someone you’re making a film about so the research process comes. So, you get researchers involved. You are researching along with the researchers, you’re reading all the literature, you’re reading all the biographies and autobiographies and watching film and YouTube and performances and interviews to sort of try to get as close as you can to who the artist is. 

 

And then you hire a staff. And you, you know, look to your research and interviews and you think about compiling a list of the people who would really round out the story, people who knew him in a particular way, had particular relationships with him, whether they were good friends when he died or on the outs.

 

And from there, you start to shape what the story is or what you think the story might be based on what these people say. Then you sketch that out on paper and then you go out and shoot your interviews and you come armed with questions.

 

You know, I always have questions but they’re more, for me, points of reference because I fancy myself as someone who likes to have conversations with people. And I’m sure you understand as someone who does this, when people feel like you’re listening to them and you’re interested in them and in the moment interested in them and something resonates inside of the conversation that pushes you to go down a rabbit hole and ask other questions, that opens up the possibilities. 

 

And so you sketch out something, you think it’s gonna be one thing and then doing your interviews, you realize, well, no, it’s actually something else. Then by the end, you realize it’s somewhere in between what you thought and what they told you. 

 

And so that’s pretty much it. You do the research, you figure out who you wanna interview, you put together your crew, try to find great directors of photography, great editors. It takes a village.

 

I think that my films have a consistent voice, which is me, and I think it’s great to have the opportunity to tell these stories and people who maybe have watched a few of my films can say, “Okay, I can tell that this guy did it,” but really, inside of that, it’s a course, it’s a team effort. If you have a great editor, if you have a great DP, you can have a great film. If you don’t have solid people in those key positions, you can have a voice but it might not be so good.

 

So, so far, so good. I’ve been lucky in the films I’ve made to have the right team who understand my vision and who also bring a lot of their own ideas to make it even better than what I hoped it to be.

 

Dan: I like the part you mentioned about you obviously have your vision or your thought about how it’s gonna go, you have the conversations, and then, depending on how it goes, things end up meeting somewhere in the middle.

 

Is there anything that sticks out from you with this project specifically, the Rick James one, something that you had a thought about but then, after doing your research, you’re like, “Okay, this is actually the other way,” or, “This is somewhere that it ended up, shifting my perception on it”?

 

Sacha: Well, what I think about was the amount of time he put into wanting to become a famous musician. He didn’t really blow up until he was in his 30s. And by today’s account, like if you start out trying to make it when you’re 17, no one’s sticking around until they’re 30 to make it as an artist.

 

So his determination and his ability to be in so many places, I mean, had he not had a headache, he would have been at the Manson murders. I mean, he was in the thick of so many different ideas and movements well beyond Buffalo, well beyond black Buffalo.

 

So he was ahead of his time in terms of having a very high literacy when it comes to culture and diverse cultures. He’s extremely fluent in many other cultures and that’s also what makes him contemporary.

 

I often reference someone like Pharrell who can move in so many different worlds as, you know, as a black, a person of color. When Rick was doing it, it wasn’t as easy but that’s what makes him contemporary, the fact that he’s relatable to so many different people.

 

He can hang out with Neil Young, he can hang out with George Clinton and still be his own man and be relatable to so many different people. I think that’s the core of what makes him interesting. He’s extremely fluent culturally in many different languages.

 

Dan: And I think the things that he’s willing to speak out on as well is a piece of his identity that I don’t think got nearly as much coverage, at least in my experience with him, and that’s one of the things that I think you called out there. 

 

For instance, how vocal Rick was about MTV and MTV not playing black artists. I think there’s even some irony in this because I think most of the people, they’ve seen the clips of David Bowie complaining about MTV not showing black artists but you rarely see the same clips of Rick James saying the same thing coming from that voice and I think that’s even an irony of itself, like let’s repeat what the white rock star says about MTV not playing black artists but we’re not hearing it as much from the black superstar about why MTV is not playing black artists —

 

Sacha: Well, there’s no surprise about that. I mean, people want to suppress what black people, people of color have to say, particularly around how they’re being ignored or oppressed, so it was a ballsy move. It was, in many ways not — it was unselfish of him to do that to take a stand.

 

Now, I’m sure a part of it was he had selfish motivations. I mean, I believe that he wanted all black artists to get played but I also believe that he wanted his shit played on MTV too, you know? So it’s — I’ll never know but it doesn’t matter. He was very vocal about his position.

 

He explicitly said black folks, he didn’t just say Rick James, he said it feels important that black artists have the same kind of attention and platform so he was about it and he tried to stand for what he believed in and, ultimately, in the film, he says he wasn’t sure if it was the right decision because in the end, it hurt him, he believed.

 

Dan: And I think that’s something that’s one of these like sad and true things we’re seeing, right? The people that make those early statements, they take the licks that other generations end up benefiting for it. You’ve seen countless other examples. 

 

I mean, I’m a big NBA fan, saw Allen Iverson take so much shit for, you know, the way that he carried himself, how he wore his hair, how he, you know, the culture that he brought and now so much of that is mainstay in the NBA and they all reference him for it again. 

 

And I think the same can be said about Rick in this example as well, like now, MTV — well, not now but, for a while, MTV did end up playing black artists and we saw the impact of that. So, it’s unfortunately not a surprising thing.

 

Sacha: Right. No. And there are so many other things that sort of speak to the black experience, you know? His contemporaries and his band who are also from Buffalo talked about how they wanted to get out of there and the one way to get out was to join the military, you know? 

 

And Rick made the same move, only he decided not to show up to his meetings and he was supposed to get shipped out to Vietnam and, from there, he went AWOL to Canada and the rest is history.

 

(break) 

 

Dan: Let’s take a quick break to hear a word from this week’s sponsor.

 

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(end break)

 

Dan: That’s one piece that I didn’t know as much about so I’m glad you included that. I think that the timeframe, of course, makes sense, just given how old he was but I think that’s a piece that a lot of people didn’t know about so I’m glad you included that. That was really good to know.

 

Sacha: I mean, how random is it that he’s just trying to get out of Buffalo and to avoid the draft and as soon as he gets off the bus, he’s called the N-word. These white guys come to his defense and it winds up being the guys who play with Bob Dylan and then he winds up becoming friends with all these people and Joni Mitchell is in a band with Neil Young.

 

I mean, he was just trying to get out of Buffalo and then you have this whole experience. It’s unbelievable.

 

Dan: Yeah, it is quite a trajectory. And I’m really, you know, it’s one of the things I think I really wanna revisit, you know? Just because of how impressive it is. But for you, now that the documentary has been out, it’s been released, you’ve seen the reaction and the responses so far, how do you feel about the product you put out and then how do you feel about the response it’s had so far?

 

Sacha: I feel like I did my best to do balance and fair representation of him. When I make these films, I also think about people who look like me and how they are gonna receive it, first and foremost, and from what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from people who look like me, the response has been pretty solid and people seem to really dig it.

 

So, for me, that’s what’s most important because so few of us have these opportunities to tell our stories, it’s usually someone else who gets the opportunity without question, so I take the opportunity to tell our stories very seriously. So black people seem to like it, which is great. 

 

And others, you know? All kinds of hues and shades, people seem to enjoy it, so I feel good about it.

 

Dan: Nice. No, you should, no, I think it’s great. I think, you know, as many people should watch it as possible. And thinking about that piece specifically just about wanting to get these stories told and wanting to get them made, I do feel like right now, from a broad perspective, we are in this boom for music documentaries and maybe documentaries more broadly, but whether it’s current artists or artists from back in the day, we’re just seeing more and more projects. And as someone that’s been in this game for as long as you’ve been, what’s your take on that dynamic and the way it’s been the past few years and how has that changed either the opportunities that have come to you or how you’ve approached the process of creating a documentary? 

 

Sacha: Well, I think people realize that when you unpack music, particularly black music, you are looking at the DNA of black folks because I’ve come to believe that there aren’t any music genres, because Louis Armstrong, who I’m making a film about now, he caught a gun charge at 14 and goes to reform school. 

 

You know, Rick James’s mom ran numbers for the Italian mob. So the RZA. RZA’s mom ran numbers for the Italian mob. So what I’m finding in telling these stories is the same story over and over again and what it is is the music is a reflection of and reaction to the environment. And it’s an oppressive environment.

 

So how do we entertain ourselves? How do we keep ourselves focused? How do we tell stories about ourselves and our dreams and our desires and our pain? And all of that is wrapped up in the DNA of our music. So, there are so many important compelling stories to tell about people in general and musicians in general.

 

But black people and brown people, in particular, the music says so much. And so when you unpack the music, you unpack all these bigger ideas that are super contemporary and relevant and don’t ever seem to change. 

 

And black music is popular culture, it’s American culture. And for the longest time, and I don’t know that it’s changed, but, you know, African Americans, people of color are not necessarily given the same treatment as your typical American does. Everything is Black History Month. 

 

No one’s looking at our stories in the context of American history and so, you know, you look at the book, Of Mice and Men, an American classic, I named my Wu Tang series Of Mics and Men. Sound and Fury is an American classic. Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James.

 

What I’m saying is we are American classics too, pay attention to us. Our stories are important. Our stories are woven in the fabric of this nation. This nation would not exist without us, not in the way that it is today. 

 

And so you have to listen to what we’re saying. You have to understand, respect, and appreciate what we’re saying. And look at us as Americans, not as other.

 

And the music from day one has been screaming, “We’re not other. We belong here. We’ve earned the right to be here. We deserve to be here. You wouldn’t be shit without us. Your popular culture would not exist if it wasn’t for what it was that we did.”

 

Elvis Presley lived in the projects and he frequented black clubs. He was Eminem before Eminem. God bless Eminem and God bless Elvis, but neither of them would exist if it wasn’t for black music and culture.

 

Dan: Well said. I mean, I think that just seeing how many artists have been able to, (a), copy so much of what’s came from black culture has been, you know, a dynamic that, unfortunately, I don’t think necessarily will ever change. 

 

On the flip side, though, what I feel like — because people are — and people like yourself are highlighting this more, whether it’s through their journalism, their writing, their documentaries they’re putting out, and that piece of it’s been good and that piece of it is really great to see. 

 

And you mentioned the Louis Armstrong, the documentary that you have coming up there. I’m curious with this, though, do you think that this is the type of documentary that you would have been able to do if it weren’t for this broader boom that’s been happening? 

 

Like do you feel like you’ve had more opportunities to get maybe some of these artists or some of these figures that may have not necessarily, whether it’s the networks may have not necessarily been willing to work with you on the vision to have their stories told if it weren’t for this streaming era that we’re in right now that just wants more content produced —

 

Dan: The appetite is there and all the streaming helps, but I think they recognize that the audience wants to see people who look like them making films about them. So, I was a journalist for many years before that, largely writing about music and writing about hip hop in particular.

 

So, there’s a lot of people wanting to watch this content and a lot of platforms who want the eyeballs so I’m very blessed to be a black, bankable, New York-based documentary filmmaker. But we need more.

 

It shouldn’t just be about me and there are some great filmmakers out there.  One9, Erik Parker, so many great black and brown filmmakers out there, but we need more. We need more of us telling our stories. 

 

And so, hopefully, more of us will get the opportunities to tell the story because I’m not, you know, I’m sure people can pick apart any number of my films and see things that I could have done differently and I could say, “Yeah, you’re right.”

 

Dan: I guess with a project like Louis Armstrong, right? And thinking about what you did with Of Mics and Men as well with the Wu Tang one, some of these projects have been your docu series, they span over several different episodes, some of them have been this straight shot, hour plus, you know, up to two-hour documentaries. 

 

What’s that decision like? Is that something you decide? Is that something that the networks decide? Is it a co-collaboration along with the pitch?

 

Sacha: It’s a combination. If the material warrants it, then these platforms want as much as you can give so if there’s four episodes’ worth of Wu Tang, they’ll take it. So it all depends on the project and the content.

 

I mean, Rick James easily could have been, you know, three hours if we wanted it to be but we felt that you could competently do him justice with one standalone film. So it all depends.

 

Wu Tang, there’s like, you know, a lot of people in the group, a lot of years, a lot of records, a lot of history so four episodes was the right thing to do in that case.

 

Dan: Okay, that makes sense. Have they made a decision yet for the Louis Armstrong one?

 

Sacha: In terms of what?

 

Dan: In terms of whether — 

 

Sacha: Right now it’s standalone but it could be more. We’ve discussed it potentially being maybe two, maybe. I mean, his story is an opus and he’s, you know, misrepresented — he’s misrepresented or people have misconceptions about him. 

 

But he’s a supremely really interesting guy and a lot of popular culture — I mean, he’s the first, before the Beatles, you know, he’s getting off planes in Europe in the 50s with white people going nuts, like he’s the Beatles.

 

I mean, he’s the guy who set the stage for so much of, you know, for artists like Jay-Z, for artists like the Beatles. I mean, he was doing that first and most people don’t know or understand that.

 

Dan: That makes sense. That makes sense. And for you, I guess, thinking for the next few projects what that can look like, it seems like a lot of these you’ve been approached for but since we’re in this moment where more of these projects are getting made more than ever, are there certain types of people that are in your wish list that are like, “Oh, now that we’re in this moment, I think that we could get a project on this person up because I think it would be amazing”? Is there anyone that’s on your wish list to do a project on?

 

Sacha: I hate doing stuff like this because it could potentially jinx it but I’ve been talking to folks about wanting to do Jimi Hendrix. Like, to me, that would be it, like I could retire. Like if I had the opportunity to do that, I’d be good. So we’ll see. We’ll see if I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity to do it.

 

But his story is really way more than anyone can imagine and certainly misrepresented and mostly represented by white journalists, you know? Very rarely do you get a look at Jimi Hendrix from the perspective of someone who might have looked like him and so there are nuances and little subtle things that often get, you know, left out.

 

You know, I’m sure he has Native American ancestry but there’s always this focus on him somehow being Native American more than anything else and, to me, that’s a product of, you know, people not wanting to deal with blackness or feeling like being Native American, not — you know, being Native American is a beautiful thing and I believe his grandmother was Native American and he was very proud to be, you know, have native ancestry.

 

But instead of sort of telling the complete story, you’re focusing on, “Well, his grandma was Native American,” but what about everybody else? So, if I had the opportunity, of course, I would love to explore his Native American — his native ancestry and also his African American ancestry.

 

Dan: Nice. Yeah. That’s what I was gonna ask you, like was there a specific part that you’d like to dive into, but, yeah, no, I think that it, even more broadly, his blackness is something that I don’t know has been explored in the same type of ways that it could and I feel like who’s been writing it is a big piece of that. So, no —

 

Sacha: He played with Little Richard and The Isley Brothers like on the Chitlin’ Circuit making no money, like that’s black. Like — you know, when he went to England, he was black, like he just got turned on to all — all these white folks were into him and they were nice to him in the way they were nice to Rick James in Canada,

 

like anywhere outside the United States in the 1960s, if you meet halfway friendly white people who actually have respect for you and wanna respect your talent, give you opportunities, of course, you’re gonna be wide open but that doesn’t mean that because he’s embraced by white people, then all of a sudden he’s divorced himself from his identity as a person of color. 

 

And if you look at his career, late in his career, he started a band called Band of Gypsys with a guy named Buddy Miles and his military friend, Billy Cox. And people were threatened by that. He had a song called “Machine Gun” that was anti-war at a time when, you know, in 1969, that stuff’s in full swing.

 

And before that, he wasn’t really getting into politics. He was into colors and, you know, psychedelic things and, you know, experimentation, but it wasn’t really about politics. But once he got into politics, you know, he died mysteriously.

 

And guess what? A lot of people died mysteriously during those times. So, his story is very interesting and I would love the opportunity to unpack it.

 

Dan: Yeah, that’d be great. No. Best of luck, I hope it happens. No, that’d be something.

 

Sacha: Thank you.

 

Dan: Shifting gears a bit, one of the other projects that you’re working on is hip hop’s 50th celebration, Hip Hop 50. You’re doing this in collaboration with Mass Appeal, you’re doing it with Nas as well. It would be great to hear a little bit more about that project, how it’s going, and what your vision is to celebrate hip hop’s anniversary.

 

Sacha: So, you know, Mass Appeal is a bunch of people but myself, Peter Bittenbender, and Nas are partners in the company. We’re doing a program called Hip Hop 50 that’s gonna involve a lot of different films, books, music, programming that leads up to and supports the 50th anniversary of hip hop, which is July — excuse me, which is the 50th anniversary of — all these things that we’re doing for Hip Hop 50 sort of ramp up and lead to hip hop’s 50th anniversary, which is August 11, 2023. Many people consider the party that Kool Herc threw for his sister Cindy as the sort of kickoff date for hip hop culture in general. 

 

So, we have a partnership with Showtime where we’re producing lots of film and TV that’s sort of in the hip hop pocket and beyond that could support the celebration of hip hop in its 50th year. We’re doing partnerships with florists. We’re doing partnerships with book publishers. You know, a broad range of people understand and respect the value of hip hop culture and its contributions to world culture. 

 

You know, for instance, right now, we have a few films with Showtime. One is called Rolling Like Thunder, it’s about freight train graffiti culture, you know, what started here on the trains in New York City is now a national movement with people who paint freight trains and paint graffiti on trains.

 

We’re doing the film about Ralph McDaniels, the founder and host of Video Music Box, which is the longest running video show I think in the world but super crucial for hip hop and black music as he was many times the only person documenting some of these artists. 

 

So those are two examples of some of the films we have in production. We’re also doing a multi-part series on the history of the DJ. So, you know, graffiti and DJ-ing, all these things are foundational to the formation and existence of hip hop culture so we’re trying to tell a broad range of stories that can really give you, the viewer, a big, bright picture of where it all comes from and where it’s gone.

 

Dan: That’s what’s up. And I think one of the big focuses for a project like this, of course, is the regions and everywhere you’re trying to have have a voice in this because I know that New York is home for so much of this. I mean, that’s where this party that kicked everything off started and where so much of the early days of hip hop had its origins. 

 

But, on the flip side, there’s so much elsewhere, you know? You have a place like Atlanta and how important that is to hip hop culture. Even some of the roots it has in the, you know, West Indies as well, specifically in Jamaica. That must be a whole ’nother dynamic to be able to balance all of that piece too, just making sure that you’re representing everything but you’re still making it clear that New York is a cornerstone for this story.

 

Sacha: I mean, that’s what’s great about hip hop. It is inspired by so many different things, you know? It’s a narrative of black folks in this country. You’re given scraps and you create something wholly original. You know, it’s an old story, music programs were one of the first things to go in New York City that was bankrupt. 

 

So when you consider that kids who were using turntables on the street, they turned the turntable from a tool, a simple tool to an actual instrument, you know, the technological innovations that hip hop has created, very rarely celebrated or acknowledged.

 

So, you know, hip hop, the breadth of the story is so wide ranging, the influence is so wide ranging, and we’re gonna do our best to get it right and I’m sure other people will be doing things for the 50th anniversary as well so, hopefully, collectively, we’ll all be able to tell the most complete story that’s ever been told up until now.

 

Dan: You all got out early with the rollout, though. I know other people will definitely have their voice in but you all definitely got out early. Tell me a little bit more about what the stages will be like? What do things look like for the projects you’ll be releasing or the timeline between now and August 2023?

 

Sacha: Well, it’s go time so, you know, a lot of these relationships we’ve built, we’ve reached out to them upwards of a year ago because these things all take time. 

 

So, right now, we’re in production on some projects and putting together some book deals and lining everything up and that’s about it. Trying to find the best possible stories that we all agree on, at least ourselves and Showtime, and we have the opportunity, if Showtime is not interested in something we believe is great, we have the opportunity to take it elsewhere so we’ll also have programming on other platforms. 

 

So, right now, it’s just go time. Just develop, pitch, sell, and make, make ready. We try to never oversell and always try to deliver on what we said we’re gonna make and that’s how you make your bones. If you overpromise, you won’t get the opportunity. So, it’s really about quality over quantity and having an impact in that way.

 

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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