A quick glance at illustrator Tony Millionaire’s popular Harlem Renaissance map proves that Uptown has always been a welcome home to creatives. In these new Roaring 20s, bestselling author Michael Arceneaux, Broadway actress Saycon Sengbloh, sculptor Sanford Biggers and many more artists both established and aspiring populate the avenues above 110th Street. Among their number, longtime cultural critic Miles Marshall Lewis—whose writing has graced the pages of GQ, Essence, The New York Times and elsewhere—is currently switching mediums, from the written word to the moving image. The two-time author and former Ebony editor is currently running a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign for his directorial debut, entitled Radical: The Savoir Faire of French Hip-Hop.
A son of Harlem residents from what was once known as the Bowery Building on West 145th Street, Lewis relocated to Paris, France, from 2004 to 2011 for most of his thirties. While there, he learned French largely by immersion, and partially by exposure to French hip-hop culture. Having started his writing career in the American hip-hop media as an editor at both Vibe and XXL magazines in the ’90s, Lewis decided to shoot a documentary about French rap music through the lens of the defunct Parisian-based hip-hop magazine Radikal. He says the film is already 90 percent complete, hence his crowdfunding effort for post-production costs.
“Stepping behind the camera, I found out just how much telling a story in a feature article has in common with telling a story on screen,” says Lewis. “Different histories of hip-hop have been told so many different ways, like Hip-Hop Evolution or The Get Down on Netflix. But outside of La Haine and the more recent Les Misérables, movies exploring the lives of the black folks of France are rare. France is the second largest market for hip-hop music worldwide. From my background growing up in the Bronx when the culture started, I decided to make this my first film project.”
As it stands, Radical: The Savoir Faire of French Hip-Hop features interviews with French rappers Abd al Malik, Akhenaton, Disiz la Peste and others, as well as commentary from French rap music journalists and former editors from the French editions of Rolling Stone and The Source. Harlem-based arts critic and Burnt Sugar bandleader Greg Tate also appears, putting American hip-hop cultural criticism into a worldwide context. Though his producers are French, Lewis is currently putting together an American production team for additional shooting and editing the film into completion, at which point he hopes to screen Radical at film festivals like Imagenation and Urbanworld (“hopefully even the Maysles Documentary Center over on Lenox,” he says).
“MC Solaar first introduced me to French rap music in the mid-90s and made me understand how it was possible to appreciate songs based on beats and flow without understanding the language, just like the majority of American rap music’s international fans,” Lewis says. “But the personal histories of MCs like Kendrick Lamar or Megan Thee Stallion make us even more interested in their music. Radical will shine a light on the backgrounds of French MCs, for English-speaking audiences to see what they have to say about living in their corner of the world.”
The Radical Kickstarter campaign ends April 3. To become a backer, CLICK HERE.