2020 has been something! From COVID19 trying to take small businesses out to the racial injustices leading to Worldwide protests——the first half of the year has ben nothing but “a perfect mess’, as artist and film producer, Rhyan LaMarr, would say.
Mr. LaMarr’s latest EP, “A Perfect Mess”, is the true testament to what we are currently experiencing here on earth. We have to get through the mess and chaotic-ness of the world to reap our blessing. There is always pain the struggle, but trouble doesn’t last aways.
Rhyan is an artist, a storyteller, and a filmmaker. He is progressively active in changing the narrative and bringing unique perspectives to life; whether it be music or film.
“At the end of the day, I just want to evoke change; even if it makes people feel uncomfortable, sometimes discomfort is good,” he states.
I recently interviewed the Chi-town native where chatted more on his mission, vision, and value in life.
Naomi: So, you are a storyteller and you are working on changing the narrative. I know that you directed “Canal Street.” Can you tell us about that project and how you got involved with it?
Rhyan: Canal Street was a script that my writing partners Jon Nitter and Adam Key and I wrote about 15 years ago. It was a script that we went out to L.A. with and it took that long for it to get made but it centers around something that was ripped from the headlines literally today. It is about an African American teenager that moves to the suburbs after his father (played by Mykelti Williamson) gets a promotion at a prestigious law firm.
The kid who is played by Bryshere Y. Gray, you have seen him in “Empire”, he ends up being accused of committing the murder of one of the star athletes in the suburbs. It becomes the trial of the century; Mykelti Williamson’s character takes the case to defend his son against a mayoral candidate played by Mekhi Phifer who is also the prosecutor. It ends up becoming a case about race, about injustice, segregation and the issues that we have within our own Black community, because we do not talk about that. We do not talk about the social classes and the separations and the things that we deal with. So, it becomes this hot button issue and all of it happens on Canal Street. The film has Mykelti Williamson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Mekhi Phifer, Lance Reddick, Jamie Hector, Charlamagne Tha God…the list goes on.
But it was a blessing of a project that we made it. It is currently on BET now; it was in theatres where it had an amazing run. You can stream it; you can watch it on BET, BET Her and you can also go to canalstreetmovie.com to get yourself a copy.
Naomi: I like how you said that this film kind of deals with the things that we are going through right now. As a storyteller, why is it important that we get the word out there about the issues that are going on in the community and what can we do to work together?
Rhyan: So, I grew up in Chicago. I am sure that there are a lot of things that you and I can relate to through our experiences even though we have never met. I wanted to be a voice…not to sound cliché, but I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. I wanted to talk about the things that I experienced. I love what folks like Issa Rae and Donald Glover are doing because I can relate to them. I always used to see films and tv shows and even hear music… where I am like yeah that is my cousin and them, that is not me. You know what I mean? I could relate but that was not really me. I wanted to show that are not just one thing. There are all kinds of personalities and we too can have different personalities. It was important to me to start to develop stories that would put our diversity on display. I wanted to make stories that were relevant and unfortunately with a movie like “Canal Street”, and the music that we have coming out, it is timeless because the tragedy of injustice is timeless. It is a revolving door. So, we should be outdated…it should be like when are you going to talk about something new? When are they going to start doing something new?
As far as coming together, Red Guerilla Entertainment is my production company where we do film and music and The COO of my company is Panamanian and my CFO is one of my best friends; I have known almost my whole life and he is Polish; it is not only about coming together…obviously we have to come together within the Black community and to start putting our voices out there. But I also have allies, I am also about building people up, I am also about working together too.
Naomi: Speaking of music, can you talk a little bit about “A Perfect Mess” and what was the inspiration behind it?
Rhyan: “A Perfect Mess” is the album that is out right now. You can go and download it or stream it on all platforms. “A Perfect Mess” is personal; almost like a love letter to the old me. I was a mess, I was a broken man, I was not a good person at all, and God still showed me grace and changed who I was as a person. I went from being homeless to directing a movie with the people who I mentioned earlier. I was documenting my growth and my change throughout that entire time of me getting myself back after hitting rock bottom. So, my life was a mess but there is so much perfection in God’s grace and so much beauty; it was perfect. It was perfect the way that stuff happened to me because I was able to use it to tell my testimony, tell stories, and inspire and motivate people like my little brother and sister; to show an example of what not to do and to rise above. You do not have to hit rock bottom. You do not have to keep slamming into the same door.
“A Perfect Mess” is a combination of what I went through in my life and it is also commentary on what is going on in the world; it is a mess. It is constructed so beautifully, everything that is going on, it is messy! Behind the music we were able to construct and bring a lot of different voices together. You were talking earlier about bringing people together. How do you show representation of unity? You show representation of unity by combining Hip Hop, Gospel, R&B, Latin fused centric music, Jazz, Pop; we were able to fuse all that together. I grew up listening to Quincy Jones; “Jook Joint” and Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre’s “Chronic,” just these brilliant men that were able to put different sounds together to make it make sense. So that is where the influence came from for “A Perfect Mess,” I cannot even remember when I first listened to the Dungeon Family and out of the Dungeon Family came OutKast and Goodie Mob, those brothers just made. It did not matter if the song was 2 minutes or 10 minutes long with an outro and a skit; they just made music and that is what we did with “A Perfect Mess.”
Naomi: You mentioned that you were homeless, can you take us on that journey and tell us when the spark of entrepreneurship came?
Rhyan: I think that I have always had that entrepreneurial spirit in me. I just had to get out of my own way. I had to remove the ego and chip that was on my shoulder. When I became homeless, that was when I got my wake- up call. Because I did not start…I grew up with humble beginnings, but I got my first shot at anything with Bernie Mac. It was like rags to riches…to rags to rags; pull yourself up and be humble enough to not be about success but about humbling yourself. The financial successes came but it was not through me… me…me; it was about putting God first. I just had to get out of my own way. I think that I knew where I was going to go, and my head got too big to get through the door. So, I had to have some humbling years. You know, when you wake up in a car wash; that is where you are sleeping; that is humbling. I do not say this to gloat or to brag but I am looking out of my window right now onto Lakeshore drive in Chicago and to go from the car wash to looking out the window; I thank God for that every day. Being an entrepreneur and having that spirit was never the problem, it was literally my ego.
Naomi: That is true. We do need to get out of our own way and just have faith that God is going to work it all out.
Rhyan: Yes, your gifts are there. God gave you those gifts a long time ago. I am not going to put nothing past God, but it is not like you wake up in the morning and you grow 7 ft. tall and you are Lebron James. Lebron was gifted with that. You could be a dope basketball player but Lebron has been gifted, Michael Jordan, that is a gift.
Naomi: Speaking of gifts, what would some words of advice be for the young men and women who are coming up and looking to tap into their purpose and who may not know what their gifts are, how would you advise them to focus on figuring that out?
Rhyan: Do not rush the process. Be a sponge…ask when you do not know. I used to ask people all the time; how do I direct? They would say, oh just know what you want. But what does that mean? How do I know if I am a good director? Oh, you will know. I just kept asking until someone gave me the right answer. Bill Duke… I asked him the same question.
If you know Bill Duke, then you know that he is an amazing director. I took a class on Bill Duke at Columbia. He said that you are always going to be learning something. You can always be a student if you allow yourself to learn. Again, do not rush the process.
I had a dream that I was going to be 23, retired and have people working for me and it was not in the cards. Now I am not saying that you cannot be a 23-year-old millionaire, where you could retire…I am not saying that. Pay attention to the signs as much as you can and do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid to hear the word no. I think that a lot of times people are afraid failure but any type of failure or a loss as cliché as it sounds, it is a lesson. You watch or talk to anybody who is successful with 3 or 4 different businesses, that entrepreneurial spirit just runs through their veins; I guarantee you that they have failed. I guarantee you that they had to go through a process 3 times.
I remember my first film, I was like damn, I need a good lawyer, I need to do it all over again. The second time damn, I should not have signed with that distributor…I need to do this all over again. The third time…I have a lawyer, distributor…finances, alright cool, where am I getting the money from? Who am I being married to with these finances, damn…I picked the wrong person to invest in this movie. It is trial and error and you must be willing to make a mistake. Learn from your mistakes and then make new mistakes.
Naomi: I agree. Trust in the process. So, we talked about “Canal Street” “A Perfect Mess,” are there any other projects in the works?
Rhyan: I will bring people back to “A Perfect Mess” we have a lot of visual content that will be coming out that you can catch on YouTube. Look me up Rhyan LaMarr. We just dropped a video called, “Fight Another Day,” last week that features Shirley Murdock, Ta’Rhonda Jones and Destorm Power, Angie Rose and Jack Red. Make sure to check that out. There is a timely message in that. We have more music videos coming out from “A Perfect Mess,” and we also have volume 2 dropping this fall. We are working on the Sean Bell story and that will be going into production this winter. There are a lot of exciting things coming out. There are some timely messages that will be coming out.
Naomi: What is your overall vision for your company? Where do you see your company in 1 year from now, 2 years from now?
Rhyan: My overall vision for my company? Tyler Perry opened the door…not even opened, he broke it down. Not for him to create a monopoly but for other Black and Brown filmmakers and businessmen to come through and set up shop. Our goal is to set up shop in Chicago, the same way that Tyler did in Atlanta. We want to inspire those who are coming behind us, who will be better than us. That is what it is about. It is about creating a legacy and it is about creating a platform that will give back to underserved communities. We want to create different stories and provide opportunities for others to tell their stories.
Naomi: Lastly, is there anything else that we should know about your company, you as a film director and artist that we have not touched upon?
Rhyan: If you are looking for inspiring content, if you want to keep up to date with that we are doing at Red Guerrilla; follow me @rhyanlamarr on Instagram and Facebook. Follow me on twitter @lamarrrhyan. For anybody who is reading this, keep your head up, stay focused, stay away from consuming the news 24/7…stay alert and stay aware but if you are going to spend time doing anything, stay in the word and stay in prayer…stay armed up and when I say armed up…I mean with the armor of God. Continue to fight.
Naomi: Thank you so much Rhyan. You have a blessed day.