You may know the work of Sacha Jenkins, the respected journalist and filmmaker behind documentaries such as Fresh Dressed and the more recent Word Is Bond, but it takes a fully realized conversation with Jenkins to understand just how important Hip Hop is to him. His love and appreciation goes deeper than a trending fad and holds a greater power than many will ever recognize. Provided a platform to share that exact same love with others, Jenkins recently re-teamed with Mass Appeal and Netflix to deliver Rapture, an eight-part docu-series available today (March 30) that shines a light on some of your favorite artists from elder statesmen Nas and T.I. to the newer era's reigning champs like Logic and Rapsody. Each documentary takes a look into the personal lives, creative spaces, and backgrounds of the respective artists. Recently, Jenkins spoke with REVOLT to speak on the series while offering insight on a worldwide phenomenon that has the ability to save, shelter, and shape those that are consumed by it.
I just want to talk to you a little bit about your new docuseries, Rapture, which seems to have rap fans looking out for something good to watch, which is always a good thing. Can you tell us about it?
Eight standalone documentaries with really intimate looks at artists in the world of rap music. From T.I. to G-Eazy to Nas and Dave East, to Rapsody, to Logic, it's a pretty diverse range of artists who agreed to open up their world to our cameras.
Were there any artists whose craft you respected but weren't able to get? There are a lot of artists that we wanted to get?
The lineup we wound up getting is representative of where Hip Hop is today in terms of the breadth of it and also speaks to the strength of a platform like Netflix that can reach so many eyeballs around the world. I can sit here and tell you so and so, and I wanted this one and that one, but the bottom line is, in this era where people have their own platforms with their own Instagrams with millions of followers, some people are of the mind of "Well, I have my own platform and I can control it." I can't really control what it is you create with your series, so, hats off to the artists who took the time out to give us access to their lives. And I'm pretty sure there's other artists who are now going to see the series, and maybe rethink their initial response was to our reach out and perhaps they will want to get down with the get down. But maybe it'll be too late for those people, whoever they are.
Ha ha ha, motherfuckers. I'm completely joking by the way. I'll take that back. Your loss haters.
Again, I can't blame artists when they have their own platforms, but, I think that people are going to see our series and say "Hey, these folks are native, they understand the culture," and we created these portraits that really give you a sense of who these artists are. Hopefully that will translate to a broad range of artists that we'd love to feature in seasons five and six, and season two if we're lucky to get there.
A lot of documentaries that I've seen, relating to Hip Hop and Rap music, take a typical approach by giving us the basics and the history, obviously which you can't knock. Sometimes it gets a little stale to see the same narrative repeatedly, considering how far removed we are from that time. Watching Word is Bond, I see you giving light to younger emcees, like Dave East and Rapsody. Is that intentional?
If you're not, as a journalist, not speaking to what is happening in the moment you are not relevant. I would not be relevant as a filmmaker making films about Hip Hop if I only focused on Rakim. And I love Rakim, and Rakim has been in a film of mine. But, you know, Hip Hop spans generations, it spans geography. It spans so many different things and for me to get up there and be like, "I'm not interested in what's happening with young people in Hip Hop today," it would literally be irresponsible and I should not be in the position that I'm in. I should step aside. Anyone who is making these kinds of films that isn't speaking to young people today is not serving the community, the audience, and not serving history. I am a servant of history. History comes first. Whether I like you or not, there are artists or people that I may or may not like, but I would never not speak to them because of my own biases, I have to speak to them because of their contributions. And that is something that I hope that the new generation of people writing about the culture, writing about Hip Hop, I hope they are cognizant of that and I hope they are thinking beyond what their words mean. It's not about what my words have to say, it's the value of the people who are contributing and making the music and the sound and the culture what it is today.
I'm not saying your question wasn't good. I'm saying, I'm sorry you even have to ask a question like that. You shouldn't have to ask me something like that.
The question, more or less, derives from my love of film. I notice a lot of repetition in some narratives that are presented. Watching Word Is Bond and getting ready to watch Rapture, there's a refreshment to it that's definitely on your end. I notice your passion and that's what I appreciate when watching your material.
I think for me and what we've done with Rapture, if you really think about it, it isn't really about the music. I tell people all the time, to understand Hip Hop you have to understand the climate and the environment from which it was born. That's what really matters. The music is always going to be a byproduct of that and with the films that I make, I like to explore the environment. That's when you really understand what's happening. You can listen to the music all day, you can listen to lyrics and have your own interpretation, but when you have the artist speaking for themselves representing their art, in their environment in a very direct way, to me, that's what I think is important for people to see that we were able to do that with Rapture.
Given the climate that we're in, what were some things you kept in mind in terms of keeping people invested and entertained by Rapture?
There are individual filmmakers who made each episode. One guy, Marcus Clark, he directed three episodes. Other than that, each episode is directed by a different director. Two people can see the same thing and have a different outlook on what they saw, so that's what I think makes the series really refreshing, that you have these filmmakers from different perspectives and different backgrounds capturing these artists, rolling with them and getting a real sense of who they are. I think that sort of approach gives the series a greater opportunity to be fresh and not be tied into, like you said, the same kind of narrative. One person over eight episodes, the series probably wouldn't be as good as it could have been. Don't get me wrong, I feel like I could do it but it would be a lot. I think our approach, of giving the platform to so many different directors is what makes the series different and interesting.
With so many hands in the creative pot, what was the process when choosing artists that you wanted to document?
Looking at where rap music is today, looking at a platform like Netflix that is in 190 countries, millions and millions of viewers all over the world, you want to be able to make something that is true to the audience, true to the core, but also can invite lots of people to the party. That's something I like to consistently do as a filmmaker. I did a film called Fresh Dressed which is about the history of Hip Hop fashion, but really it was a backdoor way of telling people the history of Hip Hop. You can lure people in with a level of entertainment, you can also nourish them with other things that are very important. You can listen to Hip Hop, know nothing about it, and enjoy it at its face value. You can enjoy the beats, you can enjoy the rhymes, you can enjoy the rhythm, but until you fully understand what it means, you're not getting all the nutrients, you're not getting all the nutrition that you can get from the music. With this broad range of artists, given the shot that Netflix has given us, we have the best possible chance for success, the best possible opportunity to connect to a really broad audience and prove ourselves. Prove our worth. They've done all kinds of programming, they've got great Hip Hop programming already, so how do we offset that? How do we add value to what is already apart of their float?
Essentially, you are a walking embodiment of the culture. You were born it, it's your life, it's everything. You've been watching the culture for thirty odd years, what's been the most interesting era that you have had the privilege of covering?
You're not thinking about it because you're in the middle of it. When I think about Wu-Tang for instance, I was there for that. I saw that. When a good friend of mine was doing promotion for them — he had grown up with them on Staten Island — he had this 12" "Protect Ya Neck," and at the time I was doing a newspaper that I was publishing with a friend called Beat Down. The friend who gave me the record, we would travel together to different record stores so I can drop off my newspaper, which was free, and he could give the record to record stores to encourage them to buy the first Wu-Tang record. They didn't have a record deal, they put it out themselves. When I think about the rise of Wu-Tang and what they mean today, on a global scale, where they come from, you know, what that means, how they're such an inspiration to so many people, I just really like the song when he gave me "Protect Ya Neck." I had no idea it was going to turn into all of this. For me, a lot of stuff was just happening. You're young, you're just doing it, going with the flow, you're passionate about it because it's the soundtrack of life at that moment. It's moments like that, if I have to look back on it, it's moments like that that were important. I'm not unique in saying this, anyone that was involved in some kind of cultural movement that had an impact, when they look back they'll tell you the same thing. "I wasn't thinking about it. I was just in the middle of it."
When Tupac and Biggie got murdered, that was particularly very sad. If you look at a lot of the news coverage, it was very sensational. It would probably be even worse now with the Internet and all the things that get passed around. People talk about how the coverage of Tupac and Biggie could have been different, could've been better. Either way, it was a very sad period. Very serious for a lot of artists. Obviously black men are being murdered every single day, unfortunately, but to have two brilliant black men, who were leaders in many respects, who were so young, who were able to use the power of their words to change their lives and inspire so many people, to have them, guys who were my age murdered, over things no one fully understands but when you throw gangs in the mix… I'm not a huge fan of gangs, particularly, as a New Yorker, we had gangs and then we discovered Hip Hop and Hip Hop liberated us from gangs. The rise of gangs, in New York, it's not for me, but at the end of the day, these are fraternities. And black people deserve fraternities, black men deserve fraternities. I just hope that our fraternities can help us and inspire us to do better. If our black fraternities are hurting us, I'm not a fan and I'm not afraid to say that.
The aspect of fraternities is interesting, to call it such. I use Word Is Bond, because it's recent, where you focused on Rhymefest who uses Donda House to keep kids from being in the streets. In a way, your films provide a similar guide. What's it like to document him as someone whose hands are deep into the community doing exactly what it is you relayed to me?
It's important to highlight those people. Not to dwell on it too much, but if you watch, you see he eventually gets robbed. I wanted people to see that. He talks about how it's important for black folks who are doctors and lawyers and even rappers to stay in the community from which they came from. And then you see that he winds up getting robbed, and here's a guy who is actually doing great community work. Whether it's Rapture, or anything else I do, I try to make sure that there is a full representation of who these people are, how they may or may not give back. It's not always about the giveback, sometimes just being an artist and just being an inspiration is giveback enough. Not every artist is gonna be woke, not every artist is going to have an agenda greater than their own but I think as long as there is balance, if I'm in the position, I love to give people like that a platform to talk about what they're doing. I think Hip Hop often times sells itself short and therefore people who are not in here will also sell us short. You cannot front on the power of Hip Hop and how it is moving everything around us right now. It's that kind of platform, there's great potential to get rich, but there's also great potential to enriching the lives of people who could really use. Hip Hop has done that and it will continue to do that.
With all of your work in publishing and filmmaking, who do you find gravitates to your work more, the artist or the average viewer?
I don't really know. I would just hope that people, if they watch something that I'm directing, that they're thoroughly entertained and that they're learning something. They walk away from investing their time, not leaving, not blinking, I'm hoping they walk away with something that will inspire them and empower them. You give them something that they didn't know before. It's something that could lead to conversation. If you learned something that you didn't know before, you can share that with someone else. And if you watch the T.I. episode, you learn that Martin Luther King's mother was assassinated in the church that Martin Luther King used to preach in. He was a preacher at this very church in Atlanta. Some years after his assassination, his mother was assassinated while she was playing the organ. Now, T.I. learns this, he didn't know. How many people out there don't know this? I didn't know this. People will see T.I.'s episode and they'll be able to walk away with information that is very important. For me, if people walk away with important information, I feel like I'm doing my job. I'm a servant of history and as long as I'm serving history, whoever watches it, I hope they can feel like, "This gentleman tried his best to serve history."