Hip Hop Uncovered was a highly successful documentary that took viewers behind the scenes of some of the rap industry’s most prolific backers of the #5 musical genre in the world. The six-part documentary premiered on FX and Hulu in early 2021 and was an instant hit.
Rashidi Natara Harper served as both director and executive producer, and was able to share stories of Big U, Deb Antney, Trick Trick, Bimmy, and the infamous “Haitian Jack” about their involvement behind some of the biggest names in Hip Hop.
Harper is a highly regarded director who has collaborated with Dr. Dre, Serena and Venus Williams, Mike Tyson, Justin Timberlake, and was behind the lens, capturing the Tupac hologram performance that premiered in 2012 at Coachella.
Harper took time to speak with 2UrbanGirls about his road to success, advice for aspiring filmmakers, and what’s next for his production company, Harperville.
“I was born in Inglewood and raised all over LA from South Central to Silver Lake and spent my summers and last two years of high school in Northern California, so I’m California born and bred,” said Harper.
He recalls starting his career at a young age, and learning early on he was destined to be behind the camera, bringing artists visions to life.
“I began my career in entertainment as an actor at the age of 9. I started on stage at Los Angeles City College where my mother was a theater major,” said Harper. “From there I auditioned for commercials and TV shows. During my first commercial I was drawn to the director because he looked like he was in charge. That was probably the first time I thought about directing as a career option.”
Working alongside some of the biggest names in hip hop propelled him to one of his biggest opportunities behind the camera – Hip Hop Uncovered for FX.
“I was asked to help bring the project to life by my friends Malcolm Spellman, Doug Banker & Jimmy “Jimbob” Chris. They were ready to film with “Big U” and needed a director for the “sizzle reel”, which is a visual component used to help sell an idea to networks. From there it was about 3 to 4 years before we sold the project to FX with our partners at Lightbox Entertainment,” said Harper.
“We always felt that we had something special on our hands with Hip Hop Uncovered because we were featuring people and stories that no one could really get to. We knew that we had a unique angle into exploring Hip Hop and that it would resonate with fans of the music along with those that enjoy the true crime genre,” said Harper.
Some of the content shared by the artists could be perceived as controversial, however, Harper didn’t let that dictate how their stories were told.
“If there has been any backlash, I haven’t noticed. Most of the comments that I’ve seen online have been extremely positive and supportive of the series. People have said some really inspiring things to me about how they view the series. A few of them have thrown words around like “masterpiece”. As filmmakers who are dedicated to the craft of storytelling, those kinds of compliments mean a lot,” said Harper.
Was it hard getting the artists to open up for the camera?
“Being on camera with lights in your face and people milling about is a very vulnerable position to be in. I try to create a safe and loose environment on set so that people are comfortable sharing their stories with us,” said Harper. “The first person that I remember really opening up on camera was Trick Trick sharing with us his suicide attempt at 12 years old. He’s such an imposing figure that you never would think of that kind of vulnerability coming from him. I remember trying to stop my mouth from dropping. My heart was hurting for the little boy in that story.”
With many aspiring artists seeking to “get on” in the industry, what advice does he have for others?
“Shoot, collaborate, shoot, collaborate, shoot some more and finish as many projects as you can. That process will help find and develop your voice while learning how to manage personalities and manifest your vision at the highest levels. Embrace the journey and have fun along the way,” said Harper.
Harper’s career began working with Snoop Dogg, then transitioned to Dr. Dre by getting the chance to film his daughter’s birthday party.
“Deep into my career I was asked to shoot his youngest daughter’s 10th birthday party by our mutual friend Phillip Atwell. I remember being taken a back when Phil said that Dre needed to see my directors reel before he would hire me,” he recalled. “Classic Dr. Dre move to go above and beyond to make sure that anyone associated with him was thorough and top notch. Even for a kid’s birthday party.”
“After I humbled myself and made the best 10 year old birthday party film known to man, we became cool and he asked me to film the process of preparing for his now legendary performance at Coachella with Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Warren G, 50 Cent, Eminem, and the infamous Tupac Hologram,” said. Harper. “I’ll never forget watching Rihanna partying by herself at the front of the stage or seeing Dave Chappelle in the crowd telling jokes to some of the fans. That entire experience was epic! The film explored Dr. Dre’s creative process, the pressure of putting a show of that magnitude together in six weeks and the making of Tupac’s hologram. It also introduces us to the juggernaut that would become Kendrick Lamar.”
What can we expect next from Harperville?
“I’m excited about several new documentary series that we are developing with our company The 51B. I’m super excited about a film I am directing for The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco about 1980’s fashion designer Patrick Kelly that will be included in their upcoming exhibit on his career and life’s work. And I’m mind blown about the special project that we are about to get into with Dr. Dre,” Harper said. “That one is going to be pretty damn spectacular!”
It was recently announced that Dr. Dre, Snoop, Eminem, and Mary J. Blige will be the halftime show for the upcoming Super Bowl. Of course we asked if he would be involved, and Harper played coy.