With his camera in-hand, Tony Villagrana took it upon himself to document the hard work and diligence of a particular group of Siouxlanders: young, local hip-hop artists.
The documentary, titled “El Documentary,” will be released Friday (March 10) on Villagrana’s YouTube channel, Villagrana Productions. Filming began during the first week of January and wrapped a few months later.
In addition to watching the short film on the 16-year-old’s YouTube page, people will have a chance to watch “El Documentary” at a hip-hop show on March 24 at the Sioux City Conservatory of Music. The artists of which were featured in Villagrana’s film.
Villagrana has made other amateur short films in the past, but he wanted to challenge himself and take on a bigger project that can also contribute to Siouxland and its music scene.
“It’s a small city,” he said. “You don’t think of big things coming out of this. You don’t think of music. You don’t think of any of this. But people put a lot of work into what they’re doing. This would be a good way of putting it out there and try to make a name for the city.”
What sparked his interest in the local hip-hop scene? It started when Villagrana was shooting a music video for a local rapper.
With Villagrana’s behind-the-scenes look at how the musician worked at his craft and scrounged for money to produce his music, he was inspired to capture it all on camera and tell a story that he believed needed to be told.
“The work they put in is crazy,” said Villagrana, who recorded interviews, concerts and recording sessions in addition to artists’ personal anecdotes of what their city has contributed to them and what they do for their city.
The young filmmaker has been using a camera since he was 12 years old. His mother enrolled Villagrana into a photography class, which taught him the basics and stirred his interest enough to take a film class later on.
Long after the classes were over, Villagrana continued to teach himself new camera techniques. Once he got a job, he earned enough money to purchase his first camera. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
Just as cameras have played a major part in Villagrana’s life, hip-hop has too. The genre has been a favorite of Villagrana’s for many years. He understands the music, the culture and the history behind hip-hop.
“I grew up around hip-hop,” he said. “When you think of hip-hop, you think of East side and West side. You don’t really think of the Midwest. Nothing has ever come out of here that’s dope.
“I really want to put this out now because I feel if more people would see it, then the [interest in] hip-hop will go up in the city. That’s the main goal right now.”
Through his interviews and his time spent with the younger generation of hip-hop artists in Siouxland, Villagrana has picked up on certain traits that make them stand out from other area rappers.
“They’re humble,” he said. “They know they have lots to improve. They want to know what their sound sounds like and what people in general feel. If you straight up tell them that you don’t like a track, they’ll be like, ‘Ah, dude, for sure.’ And then they’ll get in the studio and try to improve it and try to keep on growing and try to top that.”
The local rappers, Villagrana continued, are always promoting and go to work early and go to bed late just to work on their music.
Villagrana hopes that his documentary inspires others to embrace their home and continue to work hard, whether it’s for music or something else.
“Just because it’s a little town doesn’t mean that you can’t do big things,” he said. “You can still do big things. You still have the same chance that you would if you were in New York or California. If you’re dedicated, you can do it.”