Film & Reviews

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In 1994 rap musician Reggie Rockstone Ossei returned to his native Ghana sparking a musical revolution. Rockstone left a successful English-language rap career in London to record and perform Akan-language Hip Hop in the clubs and studios of Accra. This film follows Rockstone, known as the “Godfather of Hiplife,” as he tries to build hip hop culture in Ghana. Hiplife consists of African American rap lyricism and beat-making creatively mixed through electronic technology with older proverbial speech and urban highlife rhythms and vocals. With humor and personality the film follows Rockstone through the corners of urban living as he navigates the tenuous life of a hip hop superstar in a postcolonial metropolis. His story is intercut with the trials of the Mobile Boys, a young group of aspiring rappers, as they work to make it in the music industry.

In the context of national change this film traces the artists and innovators who mixed hip hop and highlife music, creating hiplife musical culture over the course of a decade. While critics decry rap music as “foreign,” youth see it as part of the Pan-African legacy of Ghana. Historical footage is remixed with studio and concert material painting a portrait of urban culture in Accra’s streets. The film ties political history together with vibrant musical life to look at the economic hopes and musical dreams of young Ghanaians as they confront the realities of corporate sponsorship, political change, and international hopes.  This film was shot in Standard DV between 2003-6 with a small Ghanaian and American film and audio crew. The crew worked in conjunction with a number of Ghanaian rappers and music engineers in studios, concert venues, taxi stations, music shops, churches, houses, kiosks in and around Accra. Several hundred hours of footage has been painstakingly edited into this hour long documentary. It was produced by Rab Bakari along with the director’s direction.

SELECTED REVIEWS

Living the Hiplife is absolutely engaging. The film is thoughtful and visually exciting at the same time. It is a musical documentary that gives a powerful sense of life in contemporary Africa. I loved it.”
John Akomfrah
Filmmaker, Smoking Dogs Films
Founder of Black Audio Collective
Member Board of Governors BFI (British Film Institute)

Living the Hiplife is ethnographically sophisticated and rigorous without sacrificing the narrative power of its compelling storyline. Shipley shows the transnational links that grease the wheels for “Black Atlantic” exchanges which are simplified and uncritically assumed in many other offerings. This is a strong film with much to say to anthropology, to African Studies, and to serious fans/scholars of hip-hop culture.”
John L. Jackson, Jr.
Author of Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity

Living the Hiplife offers a fascinating tour of the world of Hiplife culture, where Ghanaian Highlife and American Hip-Hop blend to create an entirely new sound of the African Diaspora. Told through the voices of the central artists and producers themselves, we hear the engaging tale of how the musical genre was born, and how the supposedly provincial culture of inner city Accra engaged in an international dialogue that would rock West Africa. Director Jesse Shipley has created an informed, intellectual inspiring documentary of individual innovation and cultural redefinition.”
Mat Johnson
University of Houston
Author of Hunting in Harlem

Living the Hiplife truly captures the textures of West African music in a visually compelling bricolage. Its vivid characters have ambitions of fame and fortune that are contrasted with archival footage and the geographies of afro-cosmopolitanism.”
Jyoti Mistry
Filmmaker, I Mike What I Like
Johannesburg, South Africa