Journalist, director, collaborator, cultural critic, filmmaker, feminist and social activist are just some of the roles that the brilliant and multifaceted dream hampton plays. Named by her father after Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed “I Have A Dream” speech, her work in music, culture and politics has made her one of the most respected and gifted voices in film and print. Detroit born and bred, dream attended NYU for film school and spent fifteen years as a writer for Vibe magazine in addition to writing for numerous publications such as Spin, Essence and The Village Voice. Her most famous role to date as an author is for co-writing New York Times Best Selling book “Decoded” with Jay-Z as well as his unreleased autobiography, “The Black Book”. In addition to being an award-winning author she is also an acclaimed film director. She won an Emmy for producing VH1’S “Behind the Music” documentary on close friend Christopher “Notorious BIG” Wallace and won the award for “Best Short Film” at Vanity Fair’s Newport Film Festival for her film on schizophrenia, “I Am Ali”. In this candid interview, dream was gracious enough to share some of her thoughts with me.
Get to know dream hampton in her interview with AfroElle writer, Feyruz Tesfazion.
Feyruz: Hip Hop is an extremely male driven arena. How have you been able to successfully have your voice heard in such male dominated industry?
dream: I don’t necessarily consider myself a hip hop writer because I’m not limited to just writing about that but I do think that the world is male dominated. It can be one of the hardest things because all writers aren’t interested in voice. Some people are just interested in reporting and that’s noble. It can be very difficult to find a voice because so much is always shifting and changing in our inner spaces and our hearts, our thoughts and our minds. Most of the important work done in hip-hop, the documenting, the history and the important cultural force was done by women or at least fifty percent by woman. You have Kierna Mayo, Joan Morgan, Trisha Rose, Danyel Smith, Raquel Cepeta and Sheena Lester. It isn’t like I was this single woman writing about hip hop. Many of the people doing important work around hip hop were women and we were all thinking about similar things. How can I love this music so much at the same time that I’m dealing with the misogyny and sexism and consumerism and all of the other things that are also true about hip hop? We were kind of all naked in our criticism of hip hop. I think that also represented so many of the women who were fans of it as well.
Has it been difficult being a writer and a woman in this industry and getting respect?
dream: I get respected, period. Have I ever felt disrespected? Sure, but I think that writing is a space that equalizes things. You can do it or you can’t. It’s not about being young or about being a particular race or gender. You produce writing in complete solitude. When you’re in a room all alone or at least you’re all alone with your page and people consume it in complete solitude. We don’t all go and get together at a museum and chew it up to look it at or you don’t experience it at the club. Even if you’re on the subway reading something someone wrote, you’re doing it with your eyes alone. It’s a very merit based kind of ability.
You’ve worked with some of the most gifted artists to ever hit the mic. Do you feel that the best is behind us or yet to come?
dream: I think that in terms of lyricism that we’ve seen our best emcees but I think that there will always be really good ones. I’m not sure what the height or what the comparison would be. I guess Jazz is a good comparison. I just heard Roy Haynes album and I was listening to Roy Hargrove’s solo on that and there is no denying him as a trumpet player but certainly Miles and Coltrane have happened. The really innovative work has happened. People have come in and kind of put a signature on what the height of the possibility is with this music but that doesn’t take anything away from Roy Hargrove’s ability. I hear Meek Mills do a song Like Tony Montana and he’s as good as G Rap in that song, maybe even better. I hear what people say when they say that there was this golden era in music and it’s just not true. There has always been good and bad music.
Feyruz: How was it working with Jay-Z on Decoded?
dream: Jay has been my friend for sixteen years so we have an easy way about us. It was just a conversation that we have been having for sixteen years about what we believe are the true cultural form for our generation which was the billion dollar crack industry. I think that shapes so much of our thinking around each other in terms of the African American community and the Black American phenomenon on how we dealt with each other as a community, generation and inter gender. There was a time where black men got to realize their fantasy of patriarchy and really providing for the women in their family and just their families period. We had already been talking and thinking about it so it was fun and a great process. It was me going to his house and sitting on his couch and having the conversation that we’ve been having for sixteen years but recording it this time.
Feyruz: Many people were looking forward to the release of The Black Book (Jay-Z’s biography). Why did it ultimately get shelved?
dream: For the same reason that Oprah shelved hers after it was written as well as Jackie Onassis. I think that people sometimes think that they want to write an autobiography but then they see it in black and white. Jay-Z told Toure’ in Rolling Stone that when he held The Black Book in his hand, he wanted to faint, just the idea of someone holding his life in their hands. That’s the answer to that question. If I were to really think about it, probably the things about his wife. Every single thing that they do, people read into it all these different ways. It doesn’t really pay to share in this era of hyper virtual intimacy where people are status updating and tweeting. People always come to think with these ears that have their own investment. As a friend, privacy is one of the things I value most about him. As an artist, I think it’s compelling.
Feyruz: Who do you read and what inspires you to write?
dream: Deadlines inspire me to write. That’s hard to answer because I’m always reading. Around my bed at this moment are, “The Classroom and The Cell” by Marc Lamont Hill and Mumia Abu-Jamal, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” by David Sedaris, “The Collector of Treasures” by Bessie Head and “Adulthood Rites” by Octavia Butler one of my favorite all time authors.
Feyruz: What book has changed your life?
dream: Of the books that have changed my life, “Maru” by Bessie Head tops the list
Feyruz: Project you’re most proud of?
dream: I’m very proud of Black August and Decoded, two of my more recent projects but I still love a short film that I had directed back in 2000, Ishmael Butler (Shabazz Palaces).