Hampton’s Dream Captures the Early Days of Hip-Hop

It was all just a dream, Hampton dreamdocumentary about the dawn of hip-hop’s golden age, bringing to life the filmmaker’s personal archive. In 1993, Hampton—who stylized her name entirely in lowercase as an homage to bell hooks—was studying film at New York University and taking a documentary class when she returned to magazine camera. Source, where she previously worked as a music reporter. From staff meetings to studio visits to hanging out with friends, Hampton captured freewheeling conversations and off-the-cuff remarks from rising hip-hop stars, including Christopher Wallace, better known as Notorious BIG, who told her: “Film me, Mom!”

Hampton’s free accessibility is at the heart of the film, which just premiered at the Tribeca Festival, giving viewers a first-hand look at what the genre looked like long before the days of important concepts (such as last year’s 50th day) and social networks. “We don’t have camera phones so people are less exposed. They are less used to posing,” Hampton said. Vanity fair.

With the arrival of T band, Mobb Deep, Guru and Nikki D, It was all just a dream giving audiences a deeper insight into artists who are on the cusp of becoming international stars. “If you can get people into a space where they forget that the camera is on, where they can truly be themselves, then I think you’ve hit that sweet spot,” Hampton said.

Hampton recently spoke with Vanity fair about the process of turning her own footage, which she describes as “the era in amber,” into a documentary.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Vanity Fair: The film begins with your narration—“Let me tell you something about hip-hop, myth, and attraction. About suicide capitalists who happen to be in their teens.” It’s beautiful.

Hampton dream: That’s from one Jay-Z part that I did for Vibe. The actual line was “Let me tell you something about drug dealers” and I changed it to “hip-hop.” It was Jay-Z’s second album, and I did a piece of work, probably one of the best pieces of work I’ve ever written, for Vibe magazine titled “Life”.

I kept getting feedback from the first round that people needed more of me in it—like, that’s not the vision I had. I think most of it will be Vérité; I don’t want to walk and talk. I don’t want to over-explain Black people to non-Black audiences, or even explain hip-hop to non-hip-hop audiences. We’re trying to figure out how to do better [voice-over]. My editor, David Feinberg, who didn’t know me back then or as a writer, went to dreamhampton.com and read my work, and it was him and my other producer, Salome [Hralima]—they were the ones who said, “Let’s mix up your writing.” That wasn’t even my idea. The written word existed and it was amazing how it overlapped.

What was the process behind gathering all the footage and piecing together a story?

All come in two boxes. Back in ’93, I was a film student at NYU. So over the course of my writing career, I would say I’ve spent more and more time organizing, like as a grassroots organizer in the ’90s, than as a writer. I’ve never written that much, but I’ve always been a filmmaker. This is kind of proof of that.

I had this footage from this class that I took while making the documentary, and it was all in a box. At that moment I made up my mind—I abandoned the project for all sorts of reasons. I grew up and hip-hop wasn’t, and that happened very early on. Certainly at the time Biggie was killed, in 1997, I was in my late 20s; I am a mother; I didn’t even listen Scores [Fugees’ 1996 album]. That’s why I don’t like hip-hop. Everything is placed in just these two boxes. Of course I knew I had the Biggie footage; I’ve licensed some of that before. But I forgot I shot Guru; I know I have to spy—I completely remember that. But there are so many things I forgot I had.

The film focuses on what some might describe as the golden era of hip-hop. Is there any specific reason for that?


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