1. Q&A: Glenn Holsten, co-director Philly hip-hop documentary, "Rap City"


    This Thursday, March 31st we will be showing the 1988 documentary Rap City (a/k/a RapCity ) as part of our “Under the Influence of ego trip” film series at the Maysles Cinema in NYC. Originally broadcast on local Philadelphia public television, this excellent and rarely seen film examines the artistic range of the classic Illadelph hip-hop scene via its candid portraits of three performers – DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Schoolly-D, and upstart around the way girl Yvette Money.

    Screening info:

    Rap City
    Thursday, March 31, 2011 @ 7:30pm
    Maysles Cinema / 343 Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Blvd.
    (b/t 127th & 128th Streets) NYC, 10027

    2 or 3 train to 125th St.
    Suggested donation: $10
    Buy advance tix here .

    Filmmaker Glenn Holsten - who co-directed the movie with Lisa Marie Russo - will be present for the post-film Q&A. In advance of Thursday's screening we asked him how tough it was to convince Schoolly-D to be interviewed for the cameras alongside his moms, and share other thoughts about the making of Rap City . Check it out after the jump.

    What was your initial inspiration for making the film?

    Glenn Holsten: We were young people who were into the Philadelphia music scene, working at the PBS Station in Philadelphia (WHYY) having just the greatest time. Up until Rap City , we were making short films for the station (we worked on one together about skateboarders), as well as assisting more seasoned producers on their works. We jumped at the chance to make our first documentary together.

    Lisa Marie was very involved in the local music scene – she was very much the engine – and we were interested in and excited by the energy surrounding rap music at the time. We knew that a documentary could go deeper in terms of the level of discourse and discovery about the themes, subjects and makers of this musical art form. It was broadcast on WHYY in 1988! At that time (and still), not a typical rap audience.

    You named it Rap City . How much local pride did you sense from the artists featured in the film?

    Glenn Holsten: As I recall there was a lot of really positive energy all around the filming, especially in Philadelphia neighborhoods – which, by the way, have always been incredibly warm and welcoming. Philadelphia rap artists seemed to have their own voice, and the artists were approaching music from their own point of view, which happened to reflect a lot of life they saw in the city, so I guess that the local pride is fused with an awareness of life as they saw it at the time.

    There were so many Philly hip-hop artists coming out at that time - Steady B, Cool C, 3 Times Dope, Cash Money & Marvelous, Tuff Crew, MC Breeze etc. - many of them referenced in the film by Lady B. How did you decide who to include?

    Glenn Holsten: We were probably made aware of [most of those artists] as we worked on the treatment and filming. We did cast a wide net at first, but we selected the three to profile in the documentary because they each revealed a different aspect of the musical form. This, I remember, was part of the motivation of the project – to reveal some of the dimensions of rap that hadn’t yet been explored in the mainstream media.

    We definitely wanted to profile a woman artist, because rap was so male dominated, and in the genre women were seen (and heard from) only through the male lens. Can’t remember how we found out about [Yvette], but I remember liking her immensely, she was so very sweet.

    One of the really cool things about the film is how you were able to get access to the families of the artists featured. How difficult was it to convince Schoolly to do that given his on record persona?

    Glenn Holsten: It’s my favorite part of it too, because it reveals so much about a person. I remember loving the shoot on Schoolly-D's steps. And loving his mom. I don’t think it was that difficult to arrange (his manager helped, I’m sure). I have to give him credit, it was a brave thing to do for an artist whose image was so wrapped up in a street persona. He was thoughtful and cooperative and it was great to see him in the neighborhood – with his mother, and especially with neighborhood children.

    The man-on-the-street-style interviews are also a really well used device. How did you choose who to interview?

    Glenn Holsten: Such a good question. Mostly were music fans who either were on location in some of the neighborhoods at which we were filming, or in parking lots at shows. I remember we did track some people down in a Center City park as well.

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