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2006-10-19 / Top Stories

Local Youth Advocate Is Part Of Honored Hip Hop Project

By Cassandra Lizaire

Hip Hop artists Chris "Kazi"Rolle (left)and Q-Tip were among the celebrities at last week's Brooklyn Museum screening. Rowena Husbands The unprecedented "VH1 Hip Hop Honors Week" kicked off last Thursday at the Brooklyn Museum of Art on Eastern Parkway with education as the main theme and boasted a celebrity-studded line-up, as well as workshops, receptions and film screenings spotlighting the historic and global influence of hip hop culture. The Hip Hop Project screening recognized the genre's enduring impact on contemporary youth and its limitless potential as a catalyst for positivism and youth empowerment.

"If you had the whole world listening, what would you say?"

The Hip Hop Project, filmed be-tween 2001 and 2005, engages viewers with a compelling dose of reality, creativity, and hope while chronicling the life experiences of aspiring artist Chris "Kazi" Rolle, and the group of budding lyricists under his tutelage. Once a struggling teen on the streets of Crown Heights, Rolle found new direction after joining Art Start, the organization that bridges benevolent artists with creatively-inclined, yet disadvantaged New York City youth. Harnessing his leadership and artistic potential, Rolle founded The Hip Hop Project in 1999 with the support of Art Start, and has been encouraging impressionable young minds towards meaningful and positive musical messages ever since.

The namesake documentary, The Hip Hop Project, executive produced by Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah, features commentary from hip hop icons Doug E. Fresh and Russell Sim-mons, a longtime benefactor of Art Start. Simmons, also one of this year's VH1 honorees, was represented at the Brook-lyn Museum screening by his brother, and co-founder of Def Poetry, Danny Simmons. Also on-hand for the event's Q&A segment, was Q-Tip, the chart-topping rapper, actor and hip hop producer - most notably of A Tribe Called Quest fame - who interacted with the animated audience and members of The Hip Hop Project.

The discussion followed a rousing performance by Kazi and The Hip Hop Project, including the infectious "Roll Call" and "HPP Anthem" tracks. The packed auditorium, erupting in cheers and spontaneous dancing, quieted down as Rolle took his seat across one of his great artistic inspirations, Q-Tip.

"You've always got to acknowledge where you came from," said Kazi, before thanking a list of friends, family and advocates including The Hip Hop Project director, Matt Ruskin, and Art Start co-founder and documentary producer, Scott Rosenberg.

"...So, what exactly is the movement?" Q-Tip inquired, starting the casual interview. "Every movement is about a cause, an idea, and we want to project... integrity, realness and honesty in music... [but] first and foremost, a platform for young people...to show the whole world, a balanced representation of hip-hop," said Rolle. The personal evolution and continued involvement of the project's first graduating class to Rolle's faith in the power of hip hop as "a tool for healing, for education, and for inspiration."

A chief example of a hip hop success story is Canarsie's Divine Bradley, founder of the non-profit, Team Rev-olution youth organization when he was 17, has continued advocating for young people in the community and beyond. As Executive Director of Team Revolution for the last seven years, Bradley has established himself as a youth mentor and prominent social activist, as well as a seasoned artist and entrepreneur.

In the midst of rebuilding a studio at the groups' Flatlands Avenue headquarters, Bradley realizes the importance of hip hop to this generation. He told the Courier, "I feel that music is something that a lot of young people are into and it's a good method to communicate the work that we're doing ... Young people need that creative outlet."

Initially planned as a single showing, the event was extended due to the overwhelming response. Rolle could not have been more thrilled. Looking back, with a humility unspoiled by significant accomplishments, he concluded, "A movement usually is started by a small group of people that commit to a cause and just and go for it, and then it ripples out...Our goal is to spread this around the world."

The Hip Hop Project, produced by Pressure Point Films, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival and is set for official release next March.

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