Hip hop is well into its fourth decade of existence – in fact, some of its elder statesmen can quality for AARP membership. Hip hop has greatly transformed since its early years in New York’s boroughs. It has traveled to urban areas across the country, making its way to the mainstream worldwide – and its journey continues to this day. Such an expansive and ongoing evolution deserves examination and documentation, and the independent film “The Curators Volume 1: A Story of Independence”, directed and produced by Jimmie Thomas and Jermaine Fletcher of the organization The Curators of Hip Hop (COHH) does just that by examining the journeys of several up-and-coming hip hop artists. Through their eyes we see how hip hop has moved through time, and how its modern day heirs feel about this art form that is much more than just music and lyrics.
Artwork by New York Artist Zeso in Baltimore’s Graffiti Alley as part of Open Walls Baltimore 2 Street Art Project
What is COHH? Co-founder Jermaine Fletcher explains. “COHH is a movement and collective that works toward the purpose of preserving hip hop culture on an international scale. COHH operates through using multimedia, events, education and social-focused community groups to enhance the reputation, quality preservation of the culture.” He and co-founders Jimmie Thomas and A’sia Smith, who all graduated from FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) came together to lay the foundation for COHH. “In 2009, I was living in Hawaii and came across a live showcase titled Curators of Hawaiian Music Series,” Jermaine says. “The show was led by a “Slack Key” guitar prodigy by the name of Makana and he was basically giving viewers a bit of history, entertainment, poetry and visual media all mixed into one show. That experience influenced the name and original concept. After that, I started capturing the hip hop scene of Hawaii and branded the videos with the name Curators of Hip Hop. After doing that for about six months, I partnered with co-founders Jimmie Thomas, who was in Maryland and A’sia Smith who was in LA to take COHH to newer territories.” Today what COHH does is displayed on their website, www.thecohh.com, which includes content spotlighting artists doing incredible things in all aspects of hip hop from rapping to deejaying to dancing and graffiti art. COHH currently is run mainly by Jimmie and Jermaine. “Between the two of us,” Jermaine says, “we handle the production, editing, networking, marketing and overall-relationship building with brands and schools. Along with us are teams of ambassadors in different regions that serve as local hip hop reps for events.”
Jermaine Fletcher, a.k.a. “J Fletch”
Jermaine’s personal relationship with hip hop has existed as long as he has. “As I was learning to speak my first words, my two older brothers were rapping into my ears as an infant in 1985…for me, it actually all started with Jazz and growing up as a drummer and keyboardist, I was always physically involved as well as spiritually connected as a young fan. By age nine, I’m pretty sure I knew all the words to Illmatic and Infamous Mobb Deep. That was my blueprint to what hip hop was…” As he’s gotten older his relationship with the culture “…has matured…I now see myself as a real practitioner with no outside perspectives or validations needed. At one point, I was one of those very critical hip hop listeners who wanted absolute greatness from everyone lyrically. My perspective from that way of thinking has also grown and my interpretation of music has evolved… I feel like my understanding of the culture has evolved with the times while still staying rooted with some traditions.”
But linking the traditions of hip hop with current trends is challenging. For many, today’s hip hop artists lack the quality, particularly lyrically, that artists from days past possessed. Many reminisce over what is generally considered the “Golden Era” of hip hop – the decade roughly between 1988 and 1998.As Jermaine describes it “…it felt like a Harlem Renaissance…rapping in particular was what got the big spotlight. At that time, innovation as a whole seemed a bit more organic but it wasn’t just the music. The spoken word scene was blowing up, breakers and poppers were working directly with producers and deejays…what we don’t see now is as much originality. We’ve exposed to so much that people in all walks of life, not just music, are becoming more spectators than actual leaders and innovators of their craft.” This need for leadership and innovation is brought up throughout the film “The Curators Volume 1: A Story of Independence”. “The documentary is a story about the idea and heart of being independent,” Jermaine elaborates. “It’s about shrinking a dream into a tangible reality through dedication and consistency. We film five different artists from five different places who are all pursuing or had pursued growth and success as emcees.” Check out the trailer here:
How can fans and artists support this movement? The best way is “…by simply being good supporters of the art and music,” Jermaine says. “Even a fan can be a leader. An artist can be a leader as well. With that being said, artists can be involved by simply being great at their craft and working on that craft. When the time is right, we will recognize them or some of the fans will bring them to our recognition in general.”
To sum it all up…” Hip-hop is an extremely powerful force,”Jermaine comments. “…how big it is goes beyond any one person. That’s why we call it a movement. An international movement.”
Visit COHH online at www.thecohh.com.