Rappers making movies is nothing new. Unfortunately, for every Ice Cube shining in Friday, there’s a 50 Cent playing painfully opposite a tired, fat Val Kilmer in some D-grade, direct-to-DVD trash. It’s enough to make anyone swear off of rapper-related film projects. Though, to do so would be a mistake. The reason: Blitz The Ambassador, the Brooklyn-based, Ghanaian rapper and visual artist best known for his 2009 album Stereotype (formerly Suicide Stereotype).
As a visual accompaniment to his new album, Native Sun (in-stores now), Blitz, born Samuel Bazawule in Accra, returned to his homeland and made a striking short film about an imaginative young boy in Ghana who is searching for his father. Written and co-directed by Blitz (with director Terence Nance), Native Sun is a visual representation of Africa that is different from the average perspective of poverty and despair. It makes its exclusive debut here (watch it below).
Complex sat down with Accra City's own to talk about the making of his short, the top five African films Americans should see, and dictator fashion faux pas.
Complex: For those unfamiliar with your history, how did you become "The Ambassador"?
Blitz The Ambassador: I became a fan of hip-hop music as a kid growing up in Accra, Ghana. Before I had ever heard of hip-hop, my dad used to play old 12" vinyl African records. Everything from High Life, AfroBeat, and Soukus. Those were my first introductions to the world of music. But the special thing about life in Accra was that music was everywhere—from funerals to baby-naming ceremonies. You could always catch a local disc jockey playing music in the open field or a live band playing High Life covers.
This changed for me when my older brother started bringing home cassette tapes of Rakim, KRS-One, Public Enemy from school. That was when the spark ignited within me. I had never heard young black people speak with so much conviction and urgency. I knew from then that hip-hop was something I wanted to be a part of. I immigrated to the United States under the guise of going to college at Kent State University, which I ended up graduating from, but my true passion was and is music. After college I moved to Brooklyn where I started my band, The Embassy Ensemble, which brings us to the here and now.
A while back, you said that if your last project, Suicide Stereotype, didn't do well that you would bounce out of the music game...
Blitz The Ambassador: Stereotype did phenomenally well for an indie release when it came out in the summer of 2009. It reached top 10 on the iTunes charts, which for us was a major achievement. My videos were in circulation on MTV and BET. The most important success for Stereotype was the fact that people started to believe again in this new kind of sound that is featured on the album. I guess that's why I am still making music.
There is definitely a lot of pressure in the industry, but being indie takes a lot of that pressure off of you. You don't have to worry about the first week sales like a major label artist has to. Being independent allowed us to build our base, our foundation, one fan at a time.
Your latest, Native Sun, is powered by the sounds of Accra and features a short film of the same name. How did the idea for the project come about?
Blitz The Ambassador: Native Sun is a true representation of who I am. When I first immigrated to America, I was more concerned about fitting in, rather than standing out. After about a decade of living in America I realized that what truly made me who I am is the combination of my African roots and my adopted American home. Blending both of those experiences are what make Native Sun as personal as it is.
Africans especially need to tell their own stories without having to go through the filter, and that's what encourages me to push forward.
In your opinion, what are the top five most African films that Americans need to watch?
Blitz The Ambassador: I'd have to say, starting off, number one would be Love Brewed In The African Pot. It's a Ghanaian classic film by a director named Kwaw Ansah. It was one of the first major budget movies shot there and gave the nation a great feeling of pride because it was written, directed, and produced by a Ghanaian.
Number two would be Lumumba, helmed by one of my favorites, Raul Peck. It's a biopic about a true African hero who was betrayed by his own people and murdered by the Belgian government. Definitely a must-see.
Three would be Tsotsi by South African film director Gavin Hood. It explores the grimy streets of Johannesburg, South Africa and what I love most about this movie is the redemption that comes at the end of the film.
Sarafina would be my number four most classic African film that Americans should check out. It's another epic South African film that circles around the fight by youth against apartheid and the struggle to free Nelson Mandela.
Last, but certainly not least is Pumzi, directed by a dear friend of mine Wanuri [Kahiu]. She breaks all stereotypes about Africa and amongst Africans by making a sci-fi movie set in the Motherland.
Having always been a left-of-center artist, both musically and visually, what drives you to create cinema in an industry that's known for spotlighting big box office blockbusters?
Blitz The Ambassador: I do what I do only because I, myself, am looking for an alternative. I have always believed that we are the change that we wish to see. If there is something out there that I don't like or particularly enjoy, I think it's my job to change the scenario, rather than wait for someone else to change it. That has been my approach to making music and I apply that same principle to making films. Africans especially need to tell their own stories without having to go through the filter and that's what encourages me to push forward.
What can first-time listening and viewing audiences expect with both the album and film Native Sun?
Blitz The Ambassador: Listening to this album and enjoying the visuals that come with it is one of those experiences that is both future and ancient. To the audience it will feel familiar, but elements within it are going to feel unfamiliar. I was hoping to blend these two elements to give a refreshing vibe to the record and the film. Of course, in order to achieve this successfully, I had to enlist the help of my fabulous band, The Embassy Ensemble, and they added that extra pinch of magic that brought these worlds together.
While we're on the subject of being native if you had to describe the worst fashion faux pas made by the world's most notorious dictators—who and what would it be?
Blitz The Ambassador: Obviously you have [Muammar] Gaddafi of Libya. His fashion style is just crazy absurd. With all the money that he stole from the people in that country he should have found someone more qualified to coach him on cultivating a better fashion style. You also have the insane style of President Mobuto of Zaire. He did a lot of ruthless things to the people there while wearing a leopard skin hate. I have to give it to him though that was quite creative styling.
Idris Elba recently said that he was going back to Sierra Leone to start a film studio in hopes of helping his homeland. Any similar plans for you to bring Hollywood to Accra?
Blitz The Ambassador: There's already a thriving and major film network in Ghana and Nigeria that reach the masses globally. The challenge boils down to creating a way to monetize that market to be able to cross the borders and enter the homes in the world.
Bootlegging is a normal thing in places like Ghana and Nigeria so the industry can't fully grow and expand because of it. I genuinely hope that things improve soon because that will determine the quality and growth of the entire African film industry.
So then in your opinion what specifically is the new vision of the continent?
Blitz The Ambassador: I think the vision of a new Africa is an Africa that defines itself. That's an important piece to the puzzle that we're still missing. As much as there has been progress in Africa on other sides of the chart, Africans still don't control their image globally, and I think that's what we need to work hard on.