Sanaa Lathan Makes Directorial Debut with Battle Rap Film ‘On The Come Up’

The coming-of-age film has something for everyone.

The Paramount + film, ‘On The Come Up’ marks a directorial debut for Emmy-nominated actress Sanaa Latahan.

The film masterfully tells the story of Bri, a gifted 16-year-old rapper, who attempts to take the battle rap scene by storm in order to lift up her family and do right by the legacy of her father – a local Hip Hop legend whose career was cut short by gang violence.

‘On The Come Up’ also tackles the themes of authenticity and identity as Bri finds herself torn between the authenticity that got her far and the false persona that the industry wants to impose upon her.

The film is current, relatable and fresh, and it features actors and actresses Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Sanaa Lathan, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Mike Epps, Lil Yachty, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, Justin Martin, Titus Makin, Michael Cooper Jr., GaTa, and newcomer Jamila C. Gray

AllHipHop’s Rea Davis caught up with Sanaa Lathan to discuss Lathan’s mission with the film, the element of battle rap, her Top 5 DOA, and more!

AllHipHop: So there are so many different angles that you could take with a Hip Hop story, so what attracted everyone involved to telling the story from the lens of the rap battle side? 

Sanaa Lathan: Well I always thought it was fascinating that this was set in the world of battle rap which is very different from radio rap right. It’s a different skill set. They have their own world. They have their own stars within that world. There’s a lot of bad ass females in that world. I mean so I really kind of dove in. I couldn’t go to really any live shows/live battles because it was in the middle of the pandemic, but YouTube is a great resource for that, and I wanted to bring as much authenticity to the battles and realism, and that’s part of the reason why I hired Rapsody to write all the battles. Angie had actually really written them in the novel when we had those in the script, but I wanted to kind of bring it up-to-date and give it more of an edge. So, I thought Rapsody did such an amazing job and yeah I feel like they came out pretty well. I’m happy with how they did. 

AllHipHop: I love how current it is. It talks about current issues, and with the dialogue everything is relatable from the artists mentioned to the element of social media. How does it feel to be a part of something that chronicles the now?

Sanaa Lathan: Exactly! Yeah, it’s great. You know that’s a testament to Angie Thomas. I don’t know what year her book came out, but she wrote it a while ago. When we did our rewrites we wanted to bring it into…we knew kids are so sophisticated, and this is a movie for everybody, but it’s really targeted towards young people. You know I wanted to get them involved in the story, and I think the best way to do that is to speak to them in their language. 

AllHipHop: What do you want viewers to take aways from this film?

Sanaa Lathan: I just want them to have gone on the ride, and then take what they need whether it’s just to be entertained and forget about their lives for a minute or if it’s to really kind of be touched by the journey of finding your authentic voice which I feel like everybody should. The journey of owning and accepting your past, or the journey of family and how family actually raises us. It’s always a community and the beauty of that. So many things; I want them to just be connected enough to the story where they get something.

AllHipHop: Who are your Top 5 favorite rappers of all time, and if you could trade careers with a rapper for a week, which rapper would it be?

Sanaa Lathan: I love Lauryn Hill, Rapsody, Nicki, Nas, Kendrick, Jay. I mean the list goes on.

AllHipHop: Who would you trade places with?

Sanaa Lathan: Nobody. I don’t want to be a rapper. I’ll just make a movie about rappers.