The Feministing Five: dream hampton

dream hampton sitting down at a table, smiling, in red blouse and leaning to the rightdream hampton is a filmmaker, producer and writer whose voice has impacted cultural and political discourse for 20 years. hampton attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts both in the undergraduate and graduate film programs. It was there that hampton filmed her neighbor, Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, who was a friend and helped her complete a class project. This footage later became the Emmy-award winning VH1 documentary on the rapper titled, Behind the Music: Notorious B.I.G., of which she was an Associate Producer. She also co-produced the first feature length film about the rapper titled, “Bigger Than Life.” In 2002, her narrative short film “I AM ALI” was an entry at Sundance Film Festivals and won “Best Short Film” at Vanity Fair’s Newport Film Festival. She also just shot her first music video for THEESatisfaction’s “QueenS” track.

hampton is also a prolific writer. Everything from politics, hip-hop, art, music, photography, and whatever moves her are open game for subject matter. In the early ’90s, she was an editor at The Source and a contributing writer for Vibe in its first 15 years. Essays of hers can also be found in The Village Voice, The Detroit News, Harper’s Bazaar and Essence. She is also published in various anthologies such as Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic. She co-authored the unreleased Black Book with Jay-Z and collaborated with him on Decoded. She’s currently co-authoring Kamal “Q-Tip” Fareed’s memoir, Industry Rules. 

hampton is a member of the human rights organization Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and helped to organize the Black August Hip Hop Concert Benefit to raise awareness about U.S. political prisoners. She also directed The Black August Hip Hop Project, a film about the concert series, political prisoners and MXGM.

hampton intentionally spells her name in all lower caps similar to bell hooks, who made a huge impact on the young hampton.

As a writer and huge hip-hop fan myself, it was such a pleasure talking with hampton about her work. We talked about her early years pioneering through publications like The Source as one of the few women in the office and the things she’s learned collaborating on memoirs with some of hip-hop’s biggest names. (Find out which older hip-hop artist she thinks won the hip-hop game in the end after the jump!)

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with dream hampton.

Anna Sterling: How has bell hooks influenced you and the work that you do?

dream hampton: She was the first person who I understand clearly unpacked the intersectionality between race and gender particularly for black people in America. She was someone who said, “We don’t have to privilege race over gender.” That was very important for me, being someone who loved hip hop and was dealing with the kind of contradictions of being a hip hop fan and caring about gender issues.

AS: What inspires you and how do you decide what you’re going to write about or film?

dh: I’m passionate about gender justice. I’m certainly interested in mental health. I had a film that went to Sundance. [It was] a short narrative about schizophrenia. I can be passionate about a White Stripes album or Jack White solo album. I can be passionate about a Jay-Z video. I have a huge appetite for the arts and I always have ever since I was 12 going to the independent theaters here in Detroit. I write about what I’m passionate about politically or what artist moves me.

AS: What was it like making the documentary of Biggie?

dh: He died and his best friend, D-Roc, let the footage get out. I found myself in a position of having let people license it so when MTV approached, that was a documentary I helped make and it ended up winning an Emmy. I didn’t even realize it was nominated until it had won. I’d much rather have Biggie than have helped make this documentary. Biggie helped with a class project. He was a friend and I needed to turn in this project. He was helping me out and that footage later became valuable because he’s no longer here.

AS: What has your experience been like collaborating with artists such as Jay-Z and Q-Tip on their books and memoirs?

dh: Working with Jay-Z on Decoded was just like a conversation we’ve been having for the past 20 years about that kind of stuff, about hypercapitalism of the billion dollar crack industry, about codes, about how that shapes us, how that shapes him. That was just an extension of a long conversation we’ve been having. The project with [Q-Tip] was fascinating. He’s such an awesome storyteller. That book got set back because I was sick last year, but I’m actually resuming working on it now. People talk about the dominance of gangster rap or even mindless rap, but in a lot of ways Q-Tip won. In a lot of ways, the whole Native Tongues fam won. Pharrell, Kanye, [and] Azealiah Banks come out of that school of Native Tongues. He’s just a godfather to a whole generation, including Digable Planets, The Roots, Fugees, all the people I can attribute to what he and Bambaataa Baby Bam and Trugoy and De La [Soul] and all those guys started. I would say it makes him a real pioneer not just of his own era but of all these other styles.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

dh: My favorite fictional heroine is Anyanwu. She is the lead character in Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. She’s a shape shifter and also a healer. She’s hundreds of years old. She basically meets a spirit, who in many ways is her soulmate. She travels back to America [from Africa] and makes the journey as a dolphin. She arrives in colonial America in the upper part of Manhattan, which was then still Dutch in the 15th/16th century, and proceeds to live in America for the next 300 years. [She] has to make real compromises to keep her many generations of children alive and safe from her soulmate, Doro, whose appetite is for inhabiting bodies. He’s a body snatcher and she’s a shape shifter. The way she has to confront him, the way she survives, the choices she makes, her moral compass, her curiosity, her fearlessness, her ability to love [are all why she's my favorite fictional heroine].

Real life, my daughter is my hero. Assata Shakur, who I consider a friend and a comrade is my hero. Scholars like Salamishah Tillet, Professor Blair Kelley, Melissa Harris-Perry–all those women are like real life heroes. My favorite scholar is Sylvia Wynter. Geneva Smitherman is also an important one.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

dh: My food is sushi. My drink is sake. You know, she’s gone, but I’d have to still say Octavia Butler. I’m not even sure she self identified as a feminist, but she certainly was one. Both of the women I’d want to take have passed on. Either Audre Lorde or Octavia Butler.

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