Drugs, killing, money, misogyny - that's not, says Chris "Kazi" Rolle, what the program is about.
"The program" is the Hip Hop Project, a rappers workshop founded by Kazi to empower troubled teens to use the rhymes and rhythms of hip-hop to express themselves, to learn confidence, integrity, humility.
The Hip Hop Project, a documentary about Kazi and the young men and women he mentors, isn't quite as successful as Kazi himself - a Bahamian orphan and teenage street hustler who turned his life around, and got folks like Queen Latifah, Russell Simmons and Bruce Willis to help out him and his project.
Directed by NYU alum Matt Ruskin, The Hip Hop Project has fascinating stories to tell - Kazi's, certainly, and "Princess" Lemon, a teen struggling to keep her family together as she tries to deal with her own pregnancy. But the film meanders, sidetracks, and frustrates - few of the rap songs, some of them boasting wildly inspired couplets, are shown and heard in their entirety. You want more of Kazi, Princess and the others' deft wordplay. That's what the project was about: honing and shaping these kids' songs for a CD. (The soundtrack was released this week.)
And Kazi's on-camera reunion with his biological mother - a mother who abandoned him in infancy and then threw him out again when he was a teen - is a strange, stagy affair. The scene is ultimately less powerful than it is merely puzzling.
The Hip Hop Project **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Matt Ruskin. With Kazi, Princess Lemon, Russell Simmons and Christopher "Cannon" Mapp. Distributed by ThinkFilm.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse and the AMC Loews Cherry Hill