The documentary project Rap On Flint plays with two definitions of rap: 1. a music genre characterized by words recited rapidly and rhythmically, and 2. a lengthy or impromptu conversation.
This multimedia project — that includes a documentary film, a documentary radio series, and this website — will document the history of rap music in Flint, Michigan beginning in the late 1980s to the present, through archival research and in-depth interviews. The project is also meant to ignite a conversation about the political and socioeconomic influences that gave birth to the hustle and flow — the rhythms and rhymes — of the lyrics of Flint rappers. Like some 30 years ago, the rap songs of today mirror tragic circumstances. Yet, despite the lead water crisis and a myriad of other disasters faced by Flint residents, artistry continues to grow, bringing hope to Flint’s future.
Have you heard of Eminem?
Have you heard of 2Pac?
How about MC Breed?
“If you took (MC) Breed out of the equation, there are many careers that would never have happened,” said Too $hort, a rap artist, in MC Breed’s obituary in The New York Times.
“He (MC Breed) probably paved the way for Nelly, Eminem, the Dayton family and other groups in the Midwest area,” said NaTasha Breed, the late MC Breed’s wife, in an interview with Gab N Sam. “He worked with a lot of those people as well.”
This documentary film is about Eric T. Breed, better known as MC Breed. This hip-hop artist from Flint, Mich. is noted as the first commercially successful and nationally recognized rapper in the Midwest.
Breed, the non-fiction film, is one element of a transdisciplinary and transmedia project called Rap on Flint. The project also includes a radio documentary series that will air on Michigan State University’s NPR station WKAR, a website that will serve as an archive of stills of and interviews with rap artists, and a public programming event that will take place in Flint in early 2010.
Breed will be significant because of its contributions to hip-hop history and to the histories of music legends.
First, this project is important because through experimentation, MC Breed started in 1991 a sub-genre referred to as the “Midwest” rap style. Flint as a place is “A city where pity runs low”, as Breed rapped on his debut album’s single “Ain’t No Future in Yo Frontin’.” The song combined funk with the drums from East coast hip-hop and synthesizers from West coast rappers to create a distinctly funk-rap, and arguably Flint sound. He was only 19 years old when this song hit Billboard’s Hot 100.
Second, Breed will track the MC’s move to Atlanta, the headquarters of Ichiban Records. During this chapter of his life, Breed became part of the stories of the careers of hip-hop icons. Even though Breed made his new home in Georgia, Breed traveled back to Michigan often, frequently bringing other up-and-coming rappers to his home state. In 1993, Breed and 2Pac Shakur headlined concerts at MSU and in Flint.
Third, Breed will be noteworthy because it gives pause to the devastating impacts of political-economic forces on city and individual levels. Through the words of humanities experts and rap artists, the film will analyze how art mirrors the psyche. In November 2008, Breed died at a friend’s house in Ypsilanti, Mich. of kidney failure. Earlier that year, Breed was in prison for failure to pay child support, and then recorded a country-style rap album. He planned for a comeback that included a documentary film, a memoir titled “Where is MC Breed.” The 37-year-old left behind five children. One of whom, Lexi Breed, is an aspiring rapper.
This film documents the rise, fall, and rise, again, of a city and that of an individual.
Rap On Flint is made possible by Michigan State University, MSU College of Communication Arts & Sciences, and MSU Honors College. This project is funded in part by Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.