A LOCAL budding filmmaker is sharing the stories of Savannah’s hip-hop scene for a good cause.
Taylor Henderson, director, producer, writer, and cinematographer of theSAV: Documentary was bartending on the Southside when he got his first real glimpse into his hometown hip-hop scene.
While he was behind the bar slinging drinks, Rapper Dirty K was pumping up the crowd, hosting a freestyle hip-hop battle.
“While I was working, I got to see a bit of the local scene,” he recalls. “I wondered, ‘Why don’t I know more about this?’”
Henderson, an amateur filmmaker who, after some time in Atlanta, had recently moved back home and purchased a camera, was intrigued and inspired.
Soon, he was attending local battles and concerts with a camera and tripod, capturing the sound and stories of Savannah’s rappers.
“You show up with a camera and people act in one of two ways,” he explains.
“They either want to tell you everything about their life, or they want nothing to do with you. I did that for a couple of months, just sourcing people, sourcing stories, and trying to figure out what I want to say.”
In speaking with performers from across the city—Reesey Da Don, Joe “Fatboye Tweezy” Cooper, Akil Da Beat, Miggs Son Daddy, Marquice L. Williams (QuicetheBeast), and Katrina “Dirty K” Johnson—Henderson gained a variety of perspectives on the separation of the scene, Savannah’s history of violence, and the importance of educating and uplifting youth.
The result is the 15-minute film theSAV: Documentary, and an accompanying mixtape.
As he began his interviews, Henderson found that, for a relatively small city, Savannah’s hip-hop scenes are largely separated by neighborhood.
“After a couple months of filming, I’d be talking to people and mention other people I’d spoken to, and they had no idea who they were, simply because the individual usually only stayed at the one place they liked to perform—Island Breeze, The Jinx, Sunny’s, Spitfire Poetry,” he says.
“Those bubbles were very tightly knit. Interview after interview, I noticed that pattern and tried to figure out why these people weren’t working together and if that’s holding Savannah’s identity back.”
In his interviews, Henderson enjoyed exploring the varying nuances of Savannah hip-hop and the stylistic differences that exist within a few mile radius.
“There are small differences,” he says. “The Spitfire guys are more conscious lyricists. The Garden City guys, some are much more of the down, original, Southern dirty trap. But to group everyone up like that would undo the entire purpose of this film. It’s about the individual building toward the city’s identity, not ‘You only sound like this because you’re from here.’”
Williams, an organizer of Spitfire Poetry Group and one half of the experimental hip-hop duo South Indies, notes in theSAV that people are often quick to make assumptions about other neighborhoods and the content of their music.
Others, like Dirty K, think people prefer to stay in their comfort zones, though she believes there’s more to rap than performing in the same club.
Plus, the 2003 death of Camoflauge still impacts the scene, and his legacy resonates.
“There’s always that looming threat of, ‘If I get too famous, someone’s going to take notice in the wrong way,’” says Henderson. “There are so many elements I was capturing of why we don’t have an identity, a renaissance Camoflauge...and it goes further than that. The identity someone possesses being from the Westside or the Southside, that is so engrained in a lot of people. ‘I’m not going to fuck with anyone that’s over there because they aren’t going to appreciate me.’ You have a very fragmented community that, if it just came together, we would be able to rival Atlanta.”
The filmmaker was emboldened to make connections and merge talent. Enter theSAV: Mixtape, a digital compilation featuring tracks from Southside, Eastside, Westside, and downtown rappers.
The first three tracks were recorded exclusively for the mixtape. Several rappers—strangers at first—would enter the studio and create a song together.
“The guys were able to get into the room together...and you put those guys together, the common denominator is they’re all artists and creators, and all they want to do is make music,” says Henderson.
“Take away ‘Oh, I only go to Sunny’s or Jinx,’ and you put them with someone they’ve never crossed paths with who is also passionate about music—they click. It took not only 20 minutes in the studio for these guys to vibe with each other and build raps off each other.”
The collaboration resulted in “I love you SAV” (produced by Reagan Slater and Blissfall) by Reese da Don, TAY PHOENIXXX, and Miggs Son Daddy, “burden of blessings” (produced by Regan Slater and Blissfall) by QuicetheBeast, Just a Glanc3, and Fatboye Tweezy, and “on and on fire” (produced by Reagan Slater and Acebeatz) by Fatboye Tweezy and QuicetheBeast.
The album also features solo tracks from those artists as well as Akil da Beat, Dirty K, and Young Caffeine.
Profits from mixtape downloads will go directly back into the community to benefit at-risk youth.
Henderson was pushed to document theSAV in 2016 when Savannah reached its 50th homicide of the year. Throughout the documentary, artists share how music is an escape from violence and a crab-in-a-bucket life.
“A lot of it is at the youth level,” Henderson says. “The idea is, these kids don’t have anything. All they have is their environment. You see that over and over again, you become that environment. We need more youth programs, more music programs...but that’s not where the city’s budget goes.”
With Williams’ help, Henderson decided that Park Place Youth Center would receive mixtape profits.
“It’s an incredible institution that’s been around since the ‘80s,” he says.
“I was humbled by what they were doing. I knew I wanted to take the whole thing further—instead of making a dope album and film, let’s do something with it. Let’s give back to this city, because we all love this city, but it has problems.”
After his first endeavor, Henderson hopes to continue exploring film and telling important stories; currently, he’s making a music video for Akil da Beat.
“I would love to keep doing docs more than anything,” he says. “I didn’t go to school for it, but I like it a lot more than Excel spreadsheets and making sales calls!”