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Crowdfunded documentary hopes to reveal origins of Minnesota hip-hop

Jason Corporal (second from right) with Slug (seen in the red T-shirt)

Jason Corporal (second from right) with Slug (seen in the red T-shirt)

Jason Corporal was there.

In 1986, when hip-hop was just beginning to crest as a cultural phenomenon, he was the 16-year-old co-host of Travitron’s Hip-Hop Shop on Minneapolis radio station KMOJ (89.9 FM). 

Going by the name of Jason of the Fila Crew, Corporal worked under the tutelage of host DJ Travitron, who is considered to be the godfather of Minnesota hip-hop. Together, they brought in pioneers including the likes of Freddy Fresh, Cuttin Cal, and Truth Maze to form a scene that would fly under the radar for more than a decade.

Thirty years later, Corporal is trying to reeducate the masses on just what Minnesota brought to the birth of hip-hop with his in-the-works documentary, The Untold Origins of Minnesota Hip-Hop. For the last three years, he's been shooting interviews with everyone from Twin Cities rap legends to up-and-coming emcees in hopes of preserving that undersold legacy.

Now, he’s reaching out to the people via a Kickstarter campaign launched last week to help finish the project. The ultimate goal? To permanently insert Minnesota into the collective history of hip-hop in America.

“For Minneapolis we really didn’t have a point of reference for our hip-hop movement and how it began,” Corporal says. “ I was hearing a lot about lack of unity in the hip-hop community, and one night, it came to me that I had these contacts. Ultimately, what I wanted to show was that we did have unity in our community. Everyone is interested in documenting our history for future generations.”

Corporal — who is the sole proprietor of Minnesota Hip-Hop LLC — has been shooting with DaJuan Savage of Savage Media and Film to compile footage for Untold Origins, but now he’s at a crossroads. Corporal is, by his own admission, a poor editor, and he wants the story of Minnesota hip-hop to be told as professionally as possible. That's where the Kickstarter funds will come into play.

“We want to make sure all the footage we have is edited professionally,” Corporal says. “With the success of Soundset, Atmosphere, and Doomtree, we want to make sure we can have something that can represent us just as nice.”

Music fans know where Minnesota stands in terms of hip-hop. The aforementioned Atmosphere (and, really, all of Rhymesayers Entertainment) and Doomtree are easily cited as examples of Minnesota’s rap prowess. But there are decades of history that’ve been institutionally forgotten. Folks like TC Ellis, the rapper who was signed by and toured the world with Prince, and Derrick “Delite” Stevens, the first rapper ever on MTV.

Corporal wants to return to KMOJ to teach contemporary hip-hop fans how Minneapolis/St. Paul became the diamond-in-the-rough scene, and why it's such a fitting location for the country’s best hip-hop festival. And the people at the top of the pyramid recognize the need to document that history. Atmosphere rapper and Rhymesayers founder Slug kicked in $500 on the first of the Kickstarter campaign, Corporal reports. He was also the first person interviewed for the film. 

“It’s an honor that he’s been on board since day one,” says Corporal, who attended Washburn High School with both Slug and RSE CEO Siddiq. “For me, being a part of the first hip-hop radio show in Minnesota, before Rhymesayers and before Doomtree and before Minnesota Fats and a lot of these artists, we’ve come a long way.”

As of this writing, Corporal's campaign sits at $655 — only 9 percent of it's $7,000 goal — so he’s hoping Slug’s endorsement will elevate awareness of the project among people who need hip-hop the same way Corporal did back in 1986.

“Hip-hop, for me and a lot of the people I grew up with, was something we just did out of passion for the arts,” Corporal says, remembering his friend, graffiti artist-turned-educator Peyton Russell of Juxtaposition Arts. “With all the inner city violence, the youth don’t have enough resources to stay positive and make something of themselves. I think that’s one of the challenges that Minneapolis has, coming up with ways for the youth to stay out of trouble.”

To that end, The Untold Origins of Minnesota Hip-Hop will not solely be a historical document. It’ll also showcase current flagbearers who continue to evolve the Twin Cities scene. People like the Lioness, Smart Guy Chevelle, Big WiZ, Mike the Martyr, and Maria Isa — artists who continue to represent a legacy that cannot be allowed to disappear.

There are 20 days left in Corporal’s Kickstarter. If all goes accordingly, The Untold Origins of Minnesota Hip-Hop will be out in January.