Hip-hop renaissance man Fab 5 Freddy is responsible for far more than hosting the legendary Yo! MTV Raps and telling singer Debbie Harry “everybody’s fly” on Blondie’s 1980 new wave hit, “Rapture.” Fun fact: On his 1982 single, “Change the Beat,” he introduced French rap through a female MC credited as Fab 5 Betty (later changed to Beside). In an era when the critical establishment considered rap music a fad—and not a culture capable of lasting for decades and spreading itself worldwide—a hip-hop song in another language was a landmark. Now French rappers are about to get their full due in a new documentary, Radical: The Savoir Faire of French Hip-Hop, directed by veteran cultural critic Miles Marshall Lewis.
Many members of the 1990s hip-hop media have matured into Hollywood players lo these many years later. Former Vibe editor-in-chief Mimi Valdés acted as film producer on Hidden Figures, Dope and the Netflix rap biopic, Roxanne Roxanne. Former Rap Pages editor-in-chief Dream Hampton executive produced last year’s explosive docuseries Surviving R. Kelly; former music journalist Cheo Hodari Coker helmed Netflix’s Luke Cage as showrunner and occasional writer. The Source’s ex-editor-in-chief Selwyn Seyfu Hinds evolved into a screenwriter on The Twilight Zone and the in-progress Spike Lee drama, Prince of Cats. Hinds’s successor at The Source, Carlito Rodriguez, has been a writer on Fox’s Empire for several seasons. Yet another Source alum, P. Frank Williams, has earned TV One’s Unsung series several Emmys as its producer. Add former Vibe and XXL editor Miles Marshall Lewis to the list with Radical, his directorial debut.
“Radical tells two stories: the history of French hip-hop culture and the demise of their major rap magazine, which went by the name of Radikal,” says Lewis, a Bronx native who lived in Paris from 2004 to 2011 listening to French rap like Stomy Bugsy and Ministère AMER. “I grew up as a kid under the movies of Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. I kept getting amped up to pursue film-watching later directors like P.T. Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, and of course Spike Lee. They’re all masters. But I’ve been studying movies all along. Nine years ago, I started filming French MCs and ex Radikal editors to tell my first story on a big screen.”
Like Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, the 2014 horror film of Lewis hero Spike Lee, the Radical documentary is currently being funded (from March 5 through April 4) with a Kickstarter campaign. Already completed footage includes French rappers Disiz la Peste, Abd al Malik, Akhenaton and Solo; Parisian music journalists Yasmina Benbekaï and Olivier Cachin; American arts critic Greg Tate and others. But Lewis hopes to raise $25,000 for the post-production costs of shooting French rap legends like MC Solaar and Booba, as well as employing a subtitle translator, film editor and American director of photography. At press time, over $6,000 (nearly 25 percent of the goal) has already been raised.
“I accept and expect the Kickstarter goal will be met on time,” says Lewis. “Ninety percent of Radical is already done. But finishing my first movie is kind of like on the job training for how to become a filmmaker for me. I have ideas for other things already, I’ve had them for years. But one thing at a time.”
Click here to support the Kickstarter campaign of Radical: The Savoir Faire of French Hip-Hop.