First Look: Sacha Jenkins’ Word Is Bond

by: Michael Shields

Across the Margin introduces you to the new documentary Word is Bond, which explores “the transformative power of lyrics in the world of hip-hop.”

Word is Bond, a documentary set to air on Showtime this Friday (2.16), is a love letter to hip-hop lyricism. Directed by Sacha Jenkins, the documentary takes aim at a specific aspect of hip-hop culture, keying in on the poetry that has continuously and purposefully glided over beats as hip-hop music has exploded into the mainstream. Featuring interviews with prominent voices in the hip-hop community such as Nas, Tech N9ne, El-P, Killer Mike, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Rapsody, Royce Da 5’9”,  Anderson .Paak, Slug and Brother Ali, to name a few, Word is Bond opens up a window on both the struggles of artists as they grow in creativity and fame, and the the rewards borne of their talents and persistence.

Word is Bond opens with a segment that expounds upon the game-changing  opportunity that hip-hop has created for the artists featured in the film, performers who are cognizant of how fortunate they were to come of age at a time when black voices had at their disposal such a platform as hip-hop. It is when highlighting the diverse places where hip-hop grew in sound and prominence where the film shines, fully drawing attention to how American an artform hip-hop is. Whisking viewers around the country, to North Carolina (Rapsody), Minnesota (Rhymesayers), Philadelphia (Freeway), Detroit (Royce Da 5’9”), Yonkers (Jadakiss and Styles P), Queens (Nas), and Brooklyn (Big Daddy Kane), and inevitably to the birthplace of hip-hop, the Bronx, Word is Bond calls attention to place as much as to the artists it features, and in doing so serves as a reminder of all that has taken place throughout American history, fashioning hip-hop into what it is today. For hip-hop is, like Jazz before it, one of America’s most unique—and all too often misunderstood—artforms. By examining in detail the lyricism and power of the words that act as a message bearer for the genre, Word is Bond draws attention to how important of an artform is today.

Hip-hop, to many artists and fans of the genre, serves as an escape. Nas, at one point in the film, likens the recording studio to a bathroom, a place of release where the rapper, brimming with inspiration, can get his creativity out of his system. Additionally, he continues, the studio can also manifest itself as a spaceship, a place where Nas’s ideas and creativity can blossom into something that pushes and challenges the boundaries of his imagination. It is with this example, and others, that hip-hop’s genius is explored in Word is Bond, and the documentary makes a concerted effort to source examples of differing techniques, styles, and the various technical facets of writing rhymes. Pusha T is seen in the film waxing philosophically about rhyming in the shower, the water enhancing his ability to let go and craft. Slug (one half of Atmosphere) explains how driving, and taking in the horizon, allows him to go to a place that allows him to shape ideas and craft verses. Many of hip-hop’s finest lyricists featured throughout Word is Bond help to pull back the curtain on the creative process, thus allowing those curious enough a glimpse at how life is breathed into such powerful and transformative wordplay.

Word is Bond is a unifying film, one that allows for hip-hop artists throughout the country to take a large step back from the beef and the criticism of other artists that has all too often defined the genre, allowing for the artform to be wholly celebrated as it deserves to be. Throughout the film artists shine a light on their inspirations and favored contemporaries, and in doing so praise the regional dialects that have been spawned from hip-hop. Word is Bond even finds a way to incorporate social issues and concerns into the film, from the dire situation in Flint Michigan to violence in Chicago, highlighting how dramatically hip-hop functions as an instrument of social change.

Through dynamic archival footage, captivating animation, and in-depth interviews with artists, Word is Bond serves as a fitting tribute to the poetry which underlines hip-hop. The film isn’t only a look back, but an insightful glance at the thriving state of hip-hop, and a commemoration of what the artform has done and is doing for the black community and for artists everywhere.

Word Is Bond premieres Friday February 16th at 10 PM, as part of Showtime’s celebration of Black History Month.

 

 

2 Comments

  • I missed it! But I’m sure it will air again. I need a better understanding of hip-hop. I’m half deaf and I wish there were sub-titles. I’m old enough to have seen Coltrane live. Today jazz is not the same and hip hop holds the vitality. Thanks for this re-view, Michael.

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