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'The Hip-Hop Project'

Rapper Chris "Kharma Kazi" Rolle is the intriguingly troubled mentor for high-school rapper-wannabes in the surprisingly affecting <em>Hip-Hop Project.</em>
Rapper Chris "Kharma Kazi" Rolle is the intriguingly troubled mentor for high-school rapper-wannabes in the surprisingly affecting Hip-Hop Project.

A once-homeless youth from Brooklyn, now a rapper, gives inner-city high schoolers a chance to make a hip-hop CD — provided that they explore not drugs, bling, and gangsta clichés, but their own experiences. Yeah, yeah: The very premise makes your teeth ache, right? But as the kids get more proficient at putting their feelings into lyrics, and the camera goes home, and to court, and to jail with them to illustrate what they're singing about, this documentary becomes undeniably effective. It helps that their mentor, Chris "Kharma Kazi" Rolle, is an intriguingly troubled guy himself. Midway through the film, he starts practicing what he's preaching by reaching out — both to the birth mother who abandoned him as a child and the foster mother he abandoned a few years later. The film gets better as it goes along, as if the filmmakers were increasingly inspired by the story they found themselves telling.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.