By guest blogger, Ani Yahzid
I was in Boulder doing some wildlife photography. Specifically photographing a black bear. Every evening at 6:00 p.m., a large male black bear I named “Chunky” would come down from the mountain and visit the same apple tree at the base of McClintock trailhead. I would photograph this bear and post the images on Instagram.
Namaste is a hip-hop artist in Atlanta, Georgia. We used to go to the same middle school. He found me on Instagram and liked a lot of my wildlife photography. He sent me a message to give him a call, so I did.
He was very interested in the black bear. He said, “If you are willing to get that close to wild animals, I want to work with you.” So we decided to make a profile video for him.
Planning the video, I asked Namaste what his hobbies were. Expecting him to say, ‘I like to skate or play basketball’, I was surprised when he said, “I like to go out in nature and write songs.” My first reaction, living in Colorado, was, “you live in Atlanta, I don’t really understand where you get to get out to nature.” He said he just liked getting out to his backyard or in a wooded area in his neighborhood.
I went to Atlanta in December 2016 to shoot his short profile video. I wanted to capture the “Hip-hop Artist in Nature”, but when we went out to shoot in his little backyard wooded area, every shot had a building: rendering them useless. While filming, he kept suggesting he wanted to come out to Colorado to film in the mountains. I would just put it to the side, thinking it wasn’t much of a possibility.
I came back to Colorado to finish editing. While editing his films out here, I thought, “What if we did actually mix hip-hop and the great outdoors?”
For a couple weeks, we discussed the possibilities of a trip to the mountains to film. Discussion later turned into months of planning.
The ideas started grand and eventually tapered down to reality. One of the original plans was to visit every national park in the country to film, which would have been a three month trip. Another idea was to fly Namaste into Colorado, spend a few weeks in the alpine here, drive across the desert to California, film in the desert, and then finish filming on the Big Sur coast of California. For a while, this was the plan. But logistical troubles forced us to change it.
I decided to keep the project as secure as possible, we had to only film in one location – so I called Namaste.
“We can only go to one place (implying California or Colorado), where do you want to go?”
“Washington,” he says.
“Yes, I want to go to Washington.”
“Okay, I will look into it.”
Apparently, Namaste had always seen the Washington mountains and been inspired. But they were always something “out there”. The first chance he had to get out there, he took it. So Washington it was.
While we planned the adventure, I realized how much of an impact these films could have.
Take a second to think – when was the last time you saw or heard of a rapper on a hike?
Give it some time.
Maybe a quick google search.
If you found anything more than a hike up to the Hollywood sign, I commend your efforts. Hip-hop culture has never formally met the outdoors, and neither has its main audience.
I grew up in Atlanta myself, and understand the unavailability of the outdoors and lack of connection with the outdoors for many multicultural urban youth. And it doesn’t seem to be getting better. One thing I did connect to was hip-hop. Atlanta is a music city. Hip-hop influenced every aspect of my life in one way or another. At six years old, I had three main influences; my friends, popular trends, and my favorite rapper, Lil Wayne. If my friends wore skinny jeans, I wore skinny jeans. I knew the steps to every new popular dance and the lyrics to every new Lil Wayne song – even though my mom didn’t want me to. Hip-hop set the popular trends and told us what was cool to wear and do. And we obeyed.
When I was 13, I was accepted into a private boarding school in Colorado Springs where I had the opportunity to connect to the outdoors and find my passion, an opportunity many people don’t have.
Originally, all I wanted to do with this film project was mix hip-hop and the outdoors, because I thought it was cool. But we realized the impact we could have was to make the outdoors cool. Hip-hop is currently the most influential genre of music in the United States, with the majority of the audience being millennials. In 2014, Hip-hop accounted for 29% of all digital music streams in the United States. We realized that we could draw the influence of hip-hop in cities across the U.S. and bring it towards the outdoors. And that is what we intend to do. We want to reach multicultural urban youth authentically and connect them to the outdoors.
So I will be spending two weeks in the Olympic National Park backcountry wilderness with Namaste and his producer, Keylan, filming three short films about outdoor recreation and exploration through the lens of urban culture. We will be spending most our time in the backcountry alpine environments of the park (weather permitting), setting up a base camp along the Bailey Range Traverse, exploring by day, and returning to campfire by night. The three short films will document Namaste and Keylan’s adventures in the three main environments of the park; alpine, rainforest, and coastal. If successful, the impact of the project will not only be getting more multicultural youth outdoors, but also increasing support for the protection of our natural spaces across the US.
You can learn more about the exposure found project at the link below. Please share and consider contributing to make this project a reality and a success!
You can also connect to the Exposure Film Project through Facebook here.
*All photos within this piece are Ani’s own. You can see more of his photography and film work on his Instagram @aniyahzid.