Justin Rhodes is an individual who wears multiple hats, but his success in the film world speaks for itself. Hailing from Dallas, Texas, the Award-winning music producer, raptivist, director, artist, and proud father is a content creator here to spread his message through his passion for music.
In describing himself he states, “The roots of my career tree is based in music production. I have a lot of branches that collectively makeup my career tree and they all work together to help me tell my artistic story”.
To date, Justin has worked with all the elites including Dr. Dre, Lecrae, The Game, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, Rick Ross, Slim Thug, Royce Da 5’9, Ab-Soul, Styles P, Killer Mike and Waka Flocka just to name a few. His impressive catalog includes the first reality television show for producers called House of Beats. He also boasts an American Black Film Festival Selection (ABFF) for his visual “MakeItTakeIt” back in 2019.
After grinding and putting in the endless hours in perfecting his craft he steps into his newest project: his first feature film called It’s a Wonderful Plight. The hip-hop musical is the first of its kind taking viewers through a musical history lesson, while touching on systemic racism in a light-hearted but real manner.
Flaunt caught up with Justin via Zoom to discuss his biggest influences, his early dreams, transitioning from music to film, the creation of It’s a Wonderful Plight, why it’s so significant to our current times, the reality of bringing it to life, its impact, being an educator/author, his goals and much more!
What was a young Justin like coming up in Dallas?
I was a big dreamer from the jump and I believed I could do anything. I had that initial first dream of being a basketball player but I also wanted to be a rapper and producer for a very long time. A lot of my moves from highschool on have been honing my talent and putting in 10,000 plus hours to master my musical craft.
Biggest influences as a filmmaker?
I always liked movies but I never saw myself as a director or filmmaker until about 5 years ago when me and my college buddy Kory Williams got reconnected. So to start musically… Outkast is my favorite group and producers like Dr Dre, Timbaland, Pharrell, Just Blaze, & many more in the music lane served as my initial influences. As I got deep into directing and filmmaking: Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, and even M. Night Shyamalan on some levels serve as my film inspirations. Specifically Spike Lee and Jordan Peele. The way that Jordan Peele did Get Out was the last straw that made me say “bruh I’m making movies”. Lol. I was like “Hey if I’m going to make films, that’s exactly the subject matter and creative genius I want to display in my projects.
When did you realize that you could do this for a living?
In music my first big placement with Talib Kweli was back 12 years ago. It was a song called “Congregation” that featured Black Thought of The Roots and Ab-Soul from TDE. It was cool because that’s when I was really striving to get my first big music placement. It was dope to walk around the city and have people know your work and be able to put your face with it. That’s my main thing, I’m not trying to be famous to be famous. I love when people know me because of the hard work I put into my craft.
My first big break film-wise was the Gentleman Jack Real to Reel film festival. They selected a short film we shot in New York called “A Hip Hop Silent Film”… Omari Hardwick was the special guest… The city was there and they gave us a crazy ovation when the film concluded. That’s when I really knew we were great as filmmakers and our perspective was unique and appreciated.
Talk about the new film, the hip-hop musical It’s A Wonderful Plight.
It’s super dope. It deals with 400 years of systemic racism and oppression in a unique way using music to tell the story. It’s a lot of ways we can say how we feel but when you do it behind an 808, a rhythm and with cool lyrics… your message can permeate and penetrate even better.
From Dallas, Texas on a limited budget to USA Today to the world… IT’S GOING UP! It’s a proud moment. I really think that it’s a film that hadn’t been made… until we made it. That’s the kind of filmmaker I want to be. I want to tell stories that have been told, but tell them in an unprecedented way. Everybody who sees It’s A Wonderful Plight says that we did just that.
How important is It’s A Wonderful Plight to our current times?
It’s so relevant and needed. This stuff needs to not just be talked about, but fixed and remedied. Black people are loving that I’m telling the story, and white people are thanking us for introducing them to the world of TRUE allyship.
“Thank you for opening my eyes and allowing me to remedy my own privilege,” was what one person sent. That’s no BS. This film is bigger than us. We have a piece of art that can move the dial for an entire culture of people. Not saying it’ll solve everything but it sets a forward motion for us to heal some of the ills this country was built on. I’m proud to be a part of that.
What was the reality of bringing the film to life?
We got the actors set & we were running from there. There were a lot of talented creative people moving for the same purpose so that was a blessing. Initially to be totally honest, we had a lot of established actors that said “We’d love to work with you!” White actors specifically, but once they read the script they’d say “Nah, I don’t think it’s my thing.” Eventually God aligned it so we found people who were down to tell a message that was bigger than us all.
Everybody is not always going to be down with you. You have to find a few good men and women to help you tell your story the way you want it and history will be changed because of it. Don’t bend to make the film, be firm in what the film is and make people bend to what YOUR vision is. That way you can keep your artistic integrity intact.
What was the highlight in shooting for you?
In the midst of shooting this… we had a special feeling. We knew where this could go. The highlight now is to be able to look back on just how historic the things that we were doing were. To be able to look back and say “Man, we did it! And we did it with some of our closest friends.” We feel like proud parents.
Talk about also being an educator, public speaker, writer, author, and how that all plays into your endeavors in the film world.
I was an educator on what I mastered initially which was music. I put my 10,000 plus hours in that. Even before I got my degree, I had the work and the field experience. I’d go to middle schools, high schools, and I even taught at a few colleges. The education thing is cool because production and being an artist is something I’ll do forever, but you can really separate yourself when you teach your gift to others. We have a finite time in this world. If you can create more “yous” then that’s how you can truly live forever. I took my knowledge and put it in a 100 page book to serve as a teaching tool and I’m writing the second installment of “These Beats Ain’t Free” now. It’s a natural progression. You can teach until the day you pass away and with the wealth of knowledge that you accrue it’s only right to teach people who want to learn. Education definitely plays apart in all of that. The public speaking piece is to be a visible inspiration and this ties into rapping because performing is just public speaking on records to millions in a cool way. It’s all about furthering the culture and imparting knowledge because the goal is to leave the world in a better place than what it was when you found it.
How does it feel to be called “The New Age Spike Lee”?
I’m extremely humbled. With me I’m trying to have a balance of humility, but also stay anchored in the realization that people are REALLY saying this… so I need to BOLDLY walk in it. I definitely want to fill those shoes but I’m also here to blaze my own trail simultaneously.
What are you excited for next? Do you have any goals?
‘No matter what I’m doing in the film world I’ll always produce music because those are my roots. Stay tuned for a lot more placements with some of your favorite artists. There will be new songs in some big films and video games as well! We are also working on releasing a lot of our new film projects as well. Ultimately…I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do or how I’m going to do it, but I know my goal is to be an EGOT winner. That’s an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony. I don’t know where that road will lead me, but I know that wherever I’m led to travel on that road is where I’m supposed to go. The destination is EGOT. Wherever the map takes me to get to that I’m cool with. Not that it’s all about awards but if I pursue that I know I will have a wonderful path laid out before me.