Muhammida El Muhajir was the first person to make a documentary about global Hip Hop. I was lucky enough to get hold of her and find out about her amazing experiences around the world.
Muhammida: My name is Muhammida El Muhajir and Im a producer and the director of the documentary Hip Hop: The New World Order.
Why did you make the movie?
Muhammida: I was initially inspired to make the film, primarily because here in America we dont get a lot of information on things that are happening outside of our country, unless its tragedy, you know, we dont really hear about what young people in other countries are doing. You can find out but you really have to do a lot of research.
Whereas I feel in the international countries they all are aware of whats happening in America, with American youth and our pop culture, and I just knew that Hip Hop was having a really tremendous impact on young people here in our country, and I imagined it was having similar impacts in other countries as well, but we just didnt get a lot of the information.
Being here, youd be at nightclubs and youd see these Japanese kids, all decked out with timbs and gold teeth, so whats happening over there that they are so into it. Also here in the States, for the most part, Hip Hop was looked at pretty negatively, you know, its very violent, it talks about women, all things that are very true, but I dont think people were looking at the positive influences it was having.
How did you go about deciding which countries and artists to put in the film?
Muhammida: As far as the countries, I thought about places that it was interesting, that Hip Hop was there, or places where it was really popular. So, those were the countries that I went to: I went to Japan, Cuba, France, UK, Germany, Holland, South Africa and Brazil. So, again just being on this side of the water I didnt have a lot of information about which artists were really big. Usually I would have one or two contacts and once I got to the country Id find out whos who and whats what and be led to the right people like some kind of crazy Hip Hop domino effect.
You made some good contacts then?
Muhammida: Most of the artists that I interviewed and started some sort of relationship with, they for the most part are like the forefathers of Hip Hop in their respective countries. So it just so happened that those people are the people who set the foundation for Hip Hop in many of their countries. So we talk about Japan, DJ Muro, Zeebra, K Dub Shine, all those guys who are still very influential in the Hip Hop scene there, but were there at the beginning. That goes for pretty much each country.
The documentary was a totally independent project so its been about 10 years – Ill stop and Ill go off on some other project and come back to it. But now its like a historical reference. I think that there are a lot of other documentaries that have come out since that time, but I dont think anything really touches on all those people and all those countries and really shows it – it was a guerilla style project so very intimate – you, me, my little camera and these guys at their homes or in their studios or in their car so you get a kind of birds eye view of these guys talking about their experience, and just seeing them, eating balls of super noodles or whatever it is. It was an interesting glimpse into their lives.
I interviewed the director of The Furious Force of Rhymes, Joshua Atesh Litle, who was the 2nd person to do a global Hip Hop documentary
Muhammida: Actually I think I was the first person to do it. Mine came out in various stages, but before I started on my project I have never really seen or heard something similar, maybe something about Hip Hop in Cuba or little things but I think what people have done has been amazing and just to see the growth and the interest in international Hip Hop, I am really excited about that.
So youre still a fan of international Hip Hop?
I havent had an opportunity to see your movie in full yet
Muhammida: Part of that problem is, as I said, it was a totally independent project so it has not been distributed yet, so Im working on that for next year. Again, I put it on the back burner, but now it is a historical reference piece and when people are studying the art and the culture of Hip Hop, it can be a very useful reference, in addition to a lot of the other projects that you mentioned and have highlighted.
What year did you begin with the film?
Muhammida: I went to Japan in 1998, that was the first country I went to. It wasnt like an ongoing project where I shot continuously. I was working full time, so maybe Id take a holiday and go to another country. It was my own money, Id raise money so it was shot over a period of about three years.
Hip Hop has a political angle, did you put that in your film too?
Muhammida: What I put in my film was, I really tried to show how in each country people are using this art form. For what forms of expression is Hip Hop being used as a vehicle? So all the things that people here hate about Hip Hop are really the things that make it uniquely American. Those are all the things that are part of American culture and society that people are hating Its really not the Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a gun that you could use to kill, to do violence, or it could be used to protect your family its not Hip Hop itself thats violent or negative or misogynistic, its really the American experience.
Here, we are one of the most violent countries in the whole world. So that experience is going to be reflected in our Hip Hop. I think that other countries where materialism and consumerism and all those issues are not a factor – their Hip Hop does not reflect that. No other place in the world is like it is here in America. I dig that people were using it as a political platform. Artists like Racionas MCs in Brazil – when (former Brasilian president) Lula ran, he tapped into their power and popularity, and thats a huge force, that can be used for positivity and really its become a youth movement.
I titled my film Hip Hop: The New World Order because I saw it as this new force and this new movement. If it was used in the proper way it could really make a lot of social change.
So being in New York, the Hip Hop capital, do you get a lot of attention for the film?
Muhammida: Well definitely in the past, people are looking for it. I get calls every week or so from Universities or somewhere thats looking to purchase it or screen it and Ive screened in the past and got lots of press internationally. The people are definitely waiting for it to come
The title, Hip Hop: The New World Order, has some interesting parallels with the music right now
Muhammida: Speaking about conspiracy theories and things like that, people here are looking at this commercial sort of Hip Hop in America as a way to forward some of those capitalism platforms and promote all the things that being in a capitalist country, benefits the system, the consumerism, the me me me attitude. Just a lot of those things that are characteristics of this society and help it propel forward whether its positive or negative.
Then you hear stories about this artist or that artist who are part of the Masons, all those things, on YouTube, so you never know Part of this New World Order is that we gonna have this common government and common financial and political system, and I thought it was kind of a play on that with Hip Hop because traveling around the world, you see that through Hip Hop, kids are having this commonality of language, of style, of dress. Because I was down with Hip Hop, I was immediately connected to other people – despite language barriers or anything else we had that in common and that immediately bonded us.
Tell me about your personal experiences of Hip Hop before you made the movie
Muhammida: I grew up with Hip Hop. I am about the same age, maybe a couple of years younger than what we consider modern day Hip Hop. I am a fan, an observer, an analyst I would say, all those things. I worked in the music industry, I worked in the film industry, I was a casting director. Ive been involved in Hip Hop and in music in a lot of different levels working with artists and record labels so Ive had a very close relationship with the music and the culture.
Which artists would you recommend right now?
Muhammida: I have always loved artists who have been able to really combine social commentary with the art and do it a very cool way so its not totally preachy, but you can jam to it to. So I always loved Dead Prez for that, theyve really been at the forefront of that. I love Mos Def, and some of the new guys out here like Lupe, and Im still following some of the international artists, mainly the ones that are featured in my film, Anónimo Consejo in Cuba, Oxmo Puccino, he just put out a live album
I mentioned the relationship I had with some of the artists. Oxmo Puccino was in New York and I filmed him just at a café somewhere in New York, it was just crazy. And with Zeebra riding around in his jeep in the streets of Toyko. I love to see the growth that those artists have had Roots Manuva in London. People who are really innovators in the music and the culture, worldwide – Blak Twang in the UK. A few months ago I ran into DJ Vadim on the streets of New York. These are people who are like the major power players in international Hip Hop, and I was really grateful to have them all as part of the project.
Even some of the American artists like Questlove who was in Tokyo when I shot him. Method Man, who really gave a humorous perspective on international Hip Hop with his experiences travelling abroad Dead Prez were also in the film and I shot them in South Africa, they were pretty much the first US artists to go to South Africa and do a concert. Some really historic things happening in Hip Hop are incorporated into the piece.
I cant wait to see it!
By: Esh | IBMCs on Facebook
Trailer on youtube: