Battles between MCs are at the crux of a lot of rap’s mythology, but the bigger battle today involves the definition of hip-hop itself. Is it the profane but profitable genre under attack from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Or is it something more closely resembling the art form begun in the Bronx in the late ’70s, steadily slipping into museum-piece irrelevance?
Chris “Kazi” Rolle, the central figure of this hard-to-dislike doc, knows what Jackson and Sharpton don’t: It’s not about taking the profanity out of hip-hop, but rather putting the expression back in. The Hip Hop Project follows Kazi, once a homeless teen in Brooklyn, and his high-school-age charges through the process of honing their skills and recording a CD (not to mention staying in school and holding on to apartments). Despite a jumpy narrative, the film works because Kazi speaks to the kids on their level but from a slight elevation, and the honesty and raw emotion he draws out of them come through; one of the teens even spits a ferocious rap through tears about being unloved at home. It’s hard to believe Kazi’s work could change the course of hip-hop, but while watching the doc, you wouldn’t bet against him. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Mike Wolf