Deserves props for: Heading up the film, album and nonprofit program aspects of the Hip Hop Project, which teaches inner-city teens to channel their energy and time into rap music.
Did you always intend to release a film alongside the album?
"No, originally it was just about the CD. But along the way we realized there was a story here. When I was in high school I saw a movie called Hoop Dreams, and I was really impacted by that film--it brought me to tears. The idea became to create something like Hoop Dreams that was compelling, entertaining and captured and inspired people."
Apart from a walk-on from Russell Simmons, the hip-hop community is mostly represented by names in the credits, like Queen Latifah and Q-Tip.
"They were there; they just didn't fit into the story. We had Jay-Z; Ludacris has given time and money; a ton of other hip-hop luminaries have been involved. They'll be on the DVD, along with storylines we had to cut for the final product."
What has reaction been within the hip-hop community so far?
"Well, it's only beginning, but I think the No. 1 thing I've been hearing is this is so neat, it's so necessary, it's so timely. I think the world wants something like this."
Do you feel the negativity often associated with hip-hop--and not just from someone like Bill O'Reilly--is fair?
"It's all about perspective. You can look at a rapper like 50 Cent and think he's promoting negativity. Or you can look at him and think, 'I want to be everything he isn't.'"
Was the project all about trying to get them to express the positive aspects of rap?
"I don't break it down into positive or negative. I'm just trying to make them be honest. A lot of artists tailor their music to what they think people want to hear or what record labels are going to sign and sell, so they become inauthentic. They put on this facade, and you feel it in the music. I try to inspire young artists to be completely honest and confident in being different."
You used to live a life of crime on the street. What do you say to people who are living your previous life?
"I said this in the movie: A criminal mind is a creative mind. To break a law, you've got to know a law and everything around it. That takes creativity. I tell them you should channel your aspirations and dreams into people who believe in you and an environment that empowers you. I tell them sometimes you have to go through negativity to come out the other side. And I tell them to just express themselves. Find after-school programs and get involved. Do something."
A Short History of...
Ben Kingsley, You Kill Me
Oliver Dahan, La Vie en Rose
Chris Eigeman, The Treatment
Mark Fergus, First Snow
Lance Weiler, Head Trauma
Mira Nair, The Namesake