It's bigger than rap. It's much larger than any brand of clothing, record label of the moment, or 16-bar quotable. If Hip-Hop is life, are we living correctly? What is the voice of this generation of music-makers saying? More importantly, does what we see on screen accurately reflect our surroundings? And are we motivated to move forward in ways other than sexual and financial gratification? These are the questions that Bay area filmmaker, Kevin Epps tackles through the lens of his digital camera, sparking an educational and hood phenomenon.
With a sincere passion and artistic eye for social advancement, Epps has put local issues in global contexts, on screens across the nation. The measure of a man or woman can represent the circumference of an entire community. Epps' first film, Straight Outta Hunters Point uncovered the Bay's hunger five years before the mainstream. This film, like Epps' later work, shows the values and consequences in unaltered lights. A black man with a story is behind the camera, read on as his vision unfolds for bridging the digital divide.
AllHipHop.com: You're from San Francisco, California?
Kevin Epps: Yeah, I'm from Hunters Point, man: Southeast San Fran.
AllHipHop.com: Is it a diverse area?
Kevin Epps: It's a mixture. Low income public housing with lower middle class blacks. It's a grind.
AllHipHop.com: You came up in the '70s era, single-parent home...
Kevin Epps: I was born in New Orleans, and came through here in the '70s. Moms was the one that raised us.
AllHipHop.com: Is there a moment in music or film history that really influenced you?
Kevin Epps: Back in the day, Spike Lee was directing these Michael Jordan [Nike] commercials. There was this part when he was sitting in a director's chair. I was like "Who is this young black dude sitting in the director's chair, and why does he look so important?" That was an image that had a strong impression on me at an early age.
AllHipHop.com: When did you know that making movies was what you wanted to do?
Kevin Epps: I always had it in me. It's something I always had the passion for. After a few trials and tribulations growing up, I was fortunate to get involved with the Film Arts Foundation. That's where I learned more in-depth the process of taking a project from A to Z. I had to get involved, and I used the skills that I learned there, along with working with various directors on small projects to launch the film I wanted to make. That's basically how Straight Outta Hunters Point came forth. It's a flick about a black community dealing with social, economic, financial, racial, gang-violence issues and how Hip-Hop plays it's part in the whole thing. That film blew up, got some recognition and here we are now.
AllHipHop.com: What was the process like shooting Straight Outta Hunters Point?
Kevin Epps: Being a part of FAF, I was already taking out cameras periodically, going to the hood and doing little skits and music videos. I was working before the film, experimenting with equipment and shooting. I decided I wanted to tell a real story about this black community: the good, bad, and ugly. I asked myself the question "What is Hunters Point?" That's what set my thoughts and ideas in motion. I wanted a history of it to see where we came from. I started by getting information from the old folks, then I went to the streets where all the young homeys were at, and just got gutter wit' it, trying to make some sense out of this s**t.
AllHipHop.com: As far as Hip-Hop, who are you listening to now?
Kevin Epps: I've been listening to Mistah Fab, Hectic, Keak da Sneak, Mac Dre - rest in peace, basically the whole Hyphy movement. It's good to see their music and hard work finally paying off and getting the recognition it deserves.
AllHipHop.com: I think the game's been missing that energy. What's the up and coming project, Rap Dreams about?
Kevin Epps: Rap Dreams is about three young up-and-coming rappers Mistah Fab, Kev Kelly, and Hectic. We follow their lives over the course of a few years as they journey through the underground rap scene trying to make it. During the course of that, they run into Shock G and some other influential individuals in the industry who give 'em some direction. It's also about who they are and where they're from. I want to show the landscape that the music comes from.
We just released that project in independent theaters. It's also having a good run on podcasts. Anyone interested in seeing part one of Rap Dreams can go to www.rap-dreams.com and through the video podcast, see the first 30 minutes. We're trying to get this work out there to the people that really want it. It's true Hip-Hop, and we're taking it to the next level.
AllHipHop.com: You definitely seem like a brother who is involved in his community, trying to spark some positivity and shed light on a condition that's not always seen. Can you explain your philanthropic side?
Kevin Epps: I co-founded a Hip-Hop Film Festival that travels to 50 different cities and universities. We brought together various underground artists, filmmakers and activist that had the same passion and desire. We formed the festival in 2002. I'm also involved in various digital media programs because a lot of the young homeys see a black man with a digital camera, they see the level I've taken it to, and it inspires them to strive for something. So I'm trying to give the community access by bringing technology to the hood. I'm an advocate for trying to bridge the digital divide between urban communities and technological advances. Hunters Point is one of the first hoods to get wireless access to the Internet. So we're trying to move ahead with giving our people the best opportunities possible. The sky's the limit for the young brothers and sisters that embrace it.
That's what Hip-Hop should be about with this next generation. Not so much rap music, but the ability to empower ourselves with the resources to take our destiny and community into our own hands. We're trying to do that with digital media. Our focus is on the battle that's ahead. Cats is beefing over this rap s**t, but it's way bigger than that. The rap battles are cool, but why don't you redirect that energy into the hoods where we need help? It's gutter everywhere! Whether North Philly, Brooklyn, South Side Chicago, we got a big task at hand.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like the rappers of today are losing their focus?
Kevin Epps: They ain't talking about nothing political, nothing the masses are dealing with. It's cool, but it's not meaningful. It's time to step your game up. As someone in the media, I'd like to push the envelope more. That's the next move. The digital revolution is feeding the minds of the people.
This Hip-Hop means so much beyond the music. It's been my way of life. Finally, as black people, we have something that we [should] own. I feel like we could do more. To make something out of nothing is amazing. We're being passed the torch so we gotta do something with it to where it can benefit our community.