North Carolina native Holland Gallagher (right in photo) is the creator of the online web series “Hype,” which follows the story of Smiles, a young black man in Durham whose life becomes entwined in the world of hip hop and startups. The first season of “Hype” can be streamed online here. A live Q&A with Gallagher and executive producer and (half of NC rap group Little Brother) Phonte Coleman (left in photo), following a screening of the first three episodes of the show, will take place at A/perture cinema in Winston-Salem on Sunday at 3 p.m. Get tickets for the screening here.
1. When and why did you decide to create this series?
I had just finished school at UNC in 2016 and was moving back to Durham. I was doing music, mostly producing and performing, doing beat-making during sets with the lead rapper in the show, Well$, and I decided I wanted to get into filmmaking. I was also working at Runaway, a startup streetwear company in Durham; our office is based out of American Underground which is a startup incubator. At this time there’s a lot of tech money coming in and a lot that’s changing the culture of the city. I knew I wanted to do something about that. I wanted it to be reflective of Durham; I wanted Durham to be the character.
2. What kind of role does music play in the show?
A lot of the music is actually mine. When you’re a producer, you end up with a whole lot of beats that no one wants (laughs). If something fit a scene, I could make it work. The show is also about music. A lot of in-the-weeds stuff too like it shows how being an independent producer for rappers is its own whole world. Like if you didn’t know a lot about it, I thought it would be a cool thing to highlight.
I also produced a whole soundtrack for this season. The idea is that because the show is about this world, that every year we would put out a soundtrack that’s a compilation of North Carolina artists and we’ll get people involved even if they aren’t in the show. All the people that have music in the show are from North Carolina like Sylvan Esso and Ace Henderson. It’s touches like that that make it really cool to be able to do something like this. The world feels occupied by Durham artists.
3. How has the Durham hip-hop scene changed in the past 10 years?
It’s an interesting place to be. The fundamental issue to me is that there’s this idea that there’s a cap on your ceiling by staying here. Most of the successful artists out of the city went to cities like LA. But there’s still a whole ecosystem of independent artists that work out of here. There’s a feeling of lack of infrastructure but no lack of creative spirit here.
4. What do you hope viewers take away from your show?
I think the main question of the show is what has more to do with the success of a rap group or startup — the product or the hype surrounding the thing. Is it the general buzz around it? The main thing has to do with to what extent your success has to do with buzz versus the product itself. Commerce versus art is a theme in a lot of my work and the cost of creative ambition. Everyone I know in this industry has made sacrifices personally to go for it. There are parts of having this kind of job that’s fragile and unstable. It’s kind of a crazy dream and the show talks about that rather than being a rise-to-success story. There’s also a gentrification aspect. Like Smiles’ girlfriend had to leave the city because of rising rent costs. We’re trying to tell the stories of people that are still here as this happens around them.
5. As a white guy writing and creating a show about black art, what steps did you take to be intentional and inclusive in the creating process?
The best thing you can do is be open and listen to your collaborators and make sure you work with people from those spaces. We were intentional about casting people of color. We also worked to fill out lots of roles with people of color so that the rappers aren’t the only ones that are black. It reflects Durham as a community. By extent of my personal circles, I cast a lot of my friends in the show too. Also, if you write something and someone says, “I don’t think this person would say that,” you have to adjust the dialogue. You need to make an environment where people feel comfortable telling you that.