interview The BLOKHEDZ Interview (August 2009) | Interview By: Chad Kiser And Norff Wess

   Considered the least bankable of hip-hop’s four elements, hip-hop graffiti is also the least respected by law, being the only one of the four elements you can be prosecuted for if caught in the act, and in some cases it’s a federal offense. Today aerosol art continues to survive in the urban underground scene and the fashion world, while also quietly maintaining an unrealized presence in modern comic books and graphic novels. Check out the obvious graffiti styles of Humberto Ramos and Lesean Thomas for reference.

In 2009, with the introduction of Imajimation studios The BLOKHEDZ, hip-hop illustration finally gets some way over due props. The animated project was originally introduced as a comic book in 2004, as a gritty urban tale that takes place in Empire City, a megapolis described as “New York City on steroids”. The main character is a (gifted) chosen emcee named Blak (voiced by Talib Kweli). Blak’s supernatural rhyme skills give him the ability to control minds. His power is also realized in the visual spectrum by powerful blasts of stylized graffiti, that idea alone should be a revelation for true hip-hop graffiti heads. With it’s tight animation and up tempo action scenes, The BLOKHEDZ could be the beginning of a new and exciting trend in the hip-hop movement. The technique of using hip-hop styled art and music together, to tell dramatic and thought provoking stories, while also being realized as a new profit model. While The BLOKHEDZ project isn’t the first of it’s kind, it is the fist pure hip-hop animation project positioned for a world wide audience. Now please without further ado, check out the trailer.

Chad Kiser and guest contributor Norff Wess sat down with Brandon Schultz, who is the creative director of Imajimation studios, and one of the main conceptualists behind the innovative comic book to the animated webisode series The BLOKHEDZ. You can check the BLOKHEDZ 24-7 at missiong.com. Also for more information go to www.BLOKHEDZ.tv and Streetink.com

Interview was done in August 2009

Questions Asked By: Chad Kiser
Dubcnn Exclusive – The BLOKHEDZ
By: Chad Kiser & Norff Wess

Dubcnn: B?. First let me say thank you for taking a break from your hectic schedule to enlighten the Dubcnn nation about the incredible BLOKHEDZ project.

Thanks to you for giving light on the movement and as you note, the fourth element of Hip-Hop that has not fully been brought to the masses. The world is ready!

Dubcnn: Before we get into the BLOKHEDZ, let the readers know where you’re from and how you got started in the animation business.

Born in New York, and raised in L.A. Growing up in the entertainment industry, I worked in movies, television, Broadway plays, and music videos since I was 14. I eventually ended up working in every department on a film set. I was always a fan of anime and some animation, but I really got into animation about 9 years ago, when a television show I was working on got cancelled and I was looking for a fresh idea.

Dubcnn: One more thing before we move forward, please give us a history lesson on film director Michael Schultz, who he is and some of the films he’s directed.

First, he is my pops and the Chairman of the Board for ImajiMation. Before film directors were celebrities, he was blazing a trail as a Black director doing Hollywood movies. With the last name of Schultz, the general public may not know that this guy with the German name on all of these classic films is a Black man.

Some of his signature films range from Cooley High to Car Wash to the Last Dragon to Krush Groove. My pops also had an extensive film collaboration with Richard Pryor including 4 films with Richard and the Richard Pryor show. His accomplishments could take the whole interview, but he’s directed 14 major feature films, Tony award-winning plays, and some of the best in TV from the 70’s until now.

Dubcnn: for shedding some light, on one of our earliest innovators of urban film. Okay, tell us about the talented crew you work with behind the scenes.

The Partners of ImajiMation are Mark and Mike Davis: amazing illustrators and creators, Josh Geisler-Amhowitz: visual effects supervisor and Production Designer, which means he designs the look of the environments and supervises the 3-D team and myself, I am the producer for our group. In truth we are all writers and directors, but we fulfill multiple roles depending on what the project calls for.

Dubcnn: The BLOKHEDZ project resonates the hip-hop aesthetic in an amazing way. I remember seeing the project first as a comic published by Image comics. How was the project conceived and what was the process of translating the comic book into an animated project?

Mark and Mike had been loosely creating characters for BLOKHEDZ for some time. My dad caught a glimpse of some of Mark’s drawings and started asking questions. Soon after that we were developing BLOKHEDZ for real.

Coming from animation, we always saw BLOKHEDZ as an animated feature film, but the comicbook really flowed as a way to develop the world and the story. Thanks for noticing the quality. I think the focus on quality is a trademark of our studio as we’ve seen so much in hip-hop that is just fast food. The Madtwinz put in some blood and sweat on those pages.

Dubcnn: When the comic book originally arrived in the shops, I remember a few of the comic book heads being real biased towards the look of the project, especially on some of the internet forms. Do you think the comic book industry has a hard time with new or different takes on the genre, other then the regular men in tights look?

Actually, the flamethrowers on the message boards were negative about the book before it was even released; we caught flack when we were just doing press. At the same time, there were people on the blogs and the boards who said, “let’s wait and see”. When the book actually came out we got many great reviews; we were nominated for a Glyph award, Hip-hop summit action network bought 1000 copies and a lot of the haters got quiet. It’s the nature of the beast though, you want people to have an opinion rather than to just be blah. Shout to Nikki Duncan-Smith who was instrumental in the BLOKHEDZ outreach to the comic world and beyond.

Dubcnn: Now the idea of a hip-hop character as a messiah or Christ figure has to be a first in an animated hip-hop story line.

At its core I think BLOKHEDZ embodies the classic myth of the Hero. Only our hero wears a doo-rag, fitted cap, and has powers that come out through rhymes.

Dubcnn: Which I think is an incredible idea. I think any true hip-hop lyricist, would love to have that ability in real life. The story takes place in a hardcore Megapolis called Empire City. Can you describe Empire City and the BLOKHEDZ story line.

Yes, at the center of the sprawling Empire City is Monarch Housing Projects. It’s truly a world separate from ours where a select few people still posses powers passed down through the generations. I’ll leave the rest for people to discover through the books, graphic novels and the web series.

Dubcnn: The BLOKHEDZ can be seen regularly on the MissionG.com site, how did that relationship transpire and how many more episodes will we be able to enjoy in the future?

First off, shout to QDIII who actually put us in the room with the missionG.com players. This is part of our DNA as a studio. We have made it a priority to set up licensing deals for BLOKHEDZ since the Comic’s were first published in ’04. Gatorade is the most recent of those partners. We made a publishing deal with Simon and Schuster, created limited edition toys, licensed toys to Carhart Japan, translated the collected comics into German and licensed the German language rights to Egmont VGS.

Dubcnn: From the music end who is involved? I know Talib Kweli is….

DJ Khalil has laid the original musical bed, he is a monster musically. Talib blessed us with some of his words. BLOKHEDZ is a true collaboration all the way around and the music is no different. Sam Zienes is our music editor who is a great talent. The Twins were able to work with them all closely.

Dubcnn: Are there any new projects on the horizon related to animation that you can tell us about?

Yes, but nothing we can talk about just yet. Check us out at BLOKHEDZ.TV and twitter.com/BLOKHEDZ

Dubcnn: Who are some hip-hop artists that you would like to work with on your current project or future endeavors?

Really we’re open. There a lot of people who we’ve talked with and would love to work with like Jadakiss, Just Blaze, Mos Def , Strong Arm Steady and several others.

Dubcnn: Who are your Top 5 all-time emcees?

I’m gonna go with my most influential to my perspective to Hip-Hop: Run (Run-DMC) the father of modern rap. 2pac, the most emotional, contradictory, passionate ever to bless a mike; Andre 3000 (Outkast), creativity put in human form, 3000 is fearless on the mike; Nas, the most poetic of the poets; and E-40, single-handedly has contributed more slang to the vernacular than anyone.

Dubcnn: Finally, Brandon do you have any information that you can give to other hip-hop/graffiti heads who would like to build a career in animation?.

The entertainment industry definitely needs you. Sharpen your pencils, practice your life drawing, push your boundaries. Beyond animation there are opportunities in VFX and games too. There are people that are actually looking for artists of every background, but you must be willing to work long hours, maybe for free or damn near to earn your stripes. Episode 3 is on the way!



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