From war reporting to Capone-N-Noreaga’s The War Report: this is the story of my obsession with geopolitics and hip-hop (documented as well in this XLR8R article by Jesse Sewer).

As a Naive 19-year-old Canadian kid, my best friend growing up Alexandre “Sacha” Trudeau invited me to hitchhike across Africa with him, and together we ventured across the Sahara desert, through the sahel to lush rainforests – as well as bloody war zones and sprawling shantytowns. I was blown away by the resilience and creativity of hood-dwellers who transformed suffering to beauty through music, dance, entrepreneurship, humor, storytelling – and above all empathy.

Then while studying at McGill University after my year off in Africa, I became obsessed with philosophers who understood that only by facing down death and suffering with art and creativity do we truly embrace life. Truths even better expressed through the music of Nas, Mobb Deep, The Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu Tang Clan that dropped around that time. 

With a philosophy-meets-gangsta rap swagger, Alexandre and I teamed up with childhood friend Malcolm hear, and grabbed a DV camera and headed to Liberia and Sierra Leone, to shoot LIBERIA: THE SECRET WAR< a documentary about young people remixng indigenous rituals with hip-hop culture to come to grips with one of the bloodiest wars of the 90s and the dark legacy of slavery and neo-colonialism that brought it about. Keep in mind this was years before Kanye, DiCaprio and Vice made the conflicts cause-célebres.

Alexandre and I continued showing truth born from strife to millions of viewers on CBC’s The National and CBC’s W-5, Canada’s premier current affairs programs, covering democratic youth using technology, protest and music to overthrow a bloody dictator in ex-Yugoslavia; Muslim terror suspects fighting for their rights, and their lives; regular Baghdad folks caught between “shock and awe” and Saddam Hussein.

I moved to New York in the early 2000s to develop an ambitious film with similar themes with my hero, Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Despite lots of Hollywood meetings, Prodigy and I couldn’t secure film financing – so I grabbed my trusty DV camera to film indie doc TRAGEDY about the “war zone” in Mobb Deep’s Queensbridge hood, America’s largest housing project, home to one of the richest legacies in rap. A complex and influential geopolitical/ conscious/ gangsta tradition stemming from The Juice Crew, to Tragedy (The Intelligent Hoodlum), Nas, Mobb Deep, and especially Capone-n-Noreaga (CNN) with their groundbreaking War Report album that inspired my LIBERIA documentary – and my creative outlook to this day, on projects like GANGSTA GLOBAL (see below).

This led to strategy work in the hip-hop industry, where I met rappers, thinkers, activists, artists, entrepreneurs and gangsters from New York’s five boroughs (including Queens-native Sacha Jenkins), all hustling to turn the spine-tingling gangsta culture into a safe and legal way to make a living and perhaps even build a better tomorrow. I also met rappers and entrepreneurs from around the world who showed him the global “gangsta” explosion for which New York was the mecca, in countries like France, Japan and Brazil.

With new insights and renewed inspiration, I got to work on a script about this global “gangsta” revolution – aptly titled GANGSTA GLOBAL – to encourage the “worldwide Hood” to celebrate the art they create, not the violence they (too often) advocate and systemic racism that causes it. From Thug Life to Pax Life!

After initial interest in a film treatment from movie stars like Vincent Cassel and (in)famous rappers from New York, France and Japan, I struggled to fit the GANGSTA GLOBAL storyworld into a single movie script. So I set it aside, diving into digital, directing interactive documentaries for top digital studio Jam3 about reconciliation between former war-time enemies and anti-nuclear activists that won at the Canadian Screen Awards, Cannes Lions, Webbys, AWWWards and D&ADs. 

This passion for technology put me back in touch with Sacha Jenkins, who helped me launch a music tech startup with Diplo, El-p and Pusha-T – called Legitmix, which co-founded with childhood friend Omid McDonald, who got inspired to build the tech because of the music licensing woes on my TRAGEDY documentary. The streaming revolution made the technology obsolete, but also inspired me (with Sacha’s encouragement) to rework GANGSTA GLOBAL, with ambitious streaming series like NARCOS and transmedia franchises like the MCU in mind. I got to work on the GANGSTA GLOBAL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE (GGCU), with broad cross-platform storyworld potential – currently still deep in development. This also sparked my interest in transmedia storytelling, Web3 and the metaverse, which I now teach at the DNM program at Seneca Polytechnic in Toronto. 

The GANGSTA GLOBAL transmedia sizzle video and bible is available on request.

Booker Sim
Booker Sim

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