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'Trouble the Water' star, rapper Kimberly Rivers Roberts, readies her CD


Now that the extraordinary Hurricane Katrina documentary "Trouble the Water" has started airing on  HBO, this portrait of the devastating effects it had on one neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans is reaching a whole new audience.

And that’s encouraging news to Kimberly Rivers Roberts, the aspiring rapper whose remarkable home-video footage used extensively in the film allows for a ground-zero look at a national disaster.

That’s national, not natural, because even though a hurricane is considered, insurance-wise, “an act of God,” the worst damage came as a result of the failure of man-made levees and the ensuing inaction or wrong action on the part of the governmental agencies charged with assisting victims in their time of need.

Almost four years later, Roberts, who uses the name Black Kold Madina on the debut album she’s about to release on her own Born Hustler Records label, continues to see Katrina as a motivating force.

She had decided to videotape the storm as it approached because, like many of those living in poverty  in the 9th Ward, she had no means of escape. She and her husband, Scott, had recently sold their only car. So as the winds and rain whipped, she let the tape roll.

“When your poor, you’re always looking for ways to make money,” she told me when I visited her in New Orleans in January. We met at a neighborhood coffee shop, near streets named Piety and Desire, on the high side of the Mississippi River, where she and Scott moved upon returning to New Orleans several months after Katrina struck.

“I had this video camera and thought I might be able to sell something to one of the news stations,” she said. They got a couple of hours of tape as the waters rose after the levee broke, flooding several square miles of neighborhoods with as much as 8 feet of water. At one point in “Trouble the Water,” you see the view Roberts, her family and some of their neighbors had when looking out an attic vent down into the street, where only the top of a stop sign is visible above the muddy deluge.

Documentarians Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, associates of Michael Moore, were at the Superdome in the aftermath looking to interview survivors when Roberts made contact and showed them her video. They wound up using about 20 minutes of it, spread throughout the film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and scored an Academy Award nomination for best documentary.

Before Katrina, Roberts and her husband had done whatever they could to make a living, including her work in French Quarter restaurants as a would-be chef as well as dealing drugs.

“I always loved to write music and rap, but I couldn’t find a way to get my music off the ground, “ she said. “I didn’t have the financial means to really get off the ground the way I wanted to, and I didn’t have the right people around me to show me that I had raw talent.”

One of the most powerful moments in “Trouble the Water” centers on Roberts, when she’s staying with a cousin in Memphis after leaving New Orleans.

“During the hurricane, I wasn’t thinking to save my music, but I was thinking to roll the camera. I lost all my music in the storm basically. I had all my music in the computer and my computer got wet up.

"I had sent my cousin a copy of my CD,” she said, although she’d forgotten that she’d done so. “I was still working on it -- you know how you give out little samples of stuff? They were underground discs. I didn’t have the money or resources to put it out on a large scale or have it in stores or anything.”

The cameras were rolling when she found the CD at her cousin’s house. In the scene, she puts it on a boom box, then starts rapping live to the song “Amazing,” an assertive expression of self-confidence and resilience that gains resonance following all she and her family had to withstand.

There was no soundtrack album with the film, so she’s issuing it on her own, working to capitalize on the exposure the film has brought to her and her music. "Amazing" and three others can be streamed on her website. Most of her material carries messages of empowerment, without soft-pedaling the injustice experienced by so many during the storm and after those troubled waters subsided.

“Music, like, freed me and gave me understanding,” Roberts said. “A lot of times. I felt lost. and I’d go to a certain song, and it’d give me wisdom. Man, I love music. I got a lot of guidance from music.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Kimberly and Scott Roberts in "Trouble the Water." Credit: Zeitgeist Films

Comments () | Archives (21)

That was a powerful film, and big ups to Kimberly and Scott. This film shows how our my black brothers and sisters in America can make a way out of no way. In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the time of the garbage truck workers rallies in Memphis "When one black person is down we are all down", in this day and age we tend to stray away from that mind set but seeing this film opened my eyes and helped me see a lot of things. The struggles my brothers and sisters are going through in the south didn't stop them that gave me inspiration and hope in this time of resession. And may god bless that brother Brien pray for me brother and I'll pray for you. Once again, Kimberly love your flow keep dong what your doing my sister. One love K.O.

I saw the documentary 2 days ago while in D.C. on layover. I was moved by their story, but motivated by Kim's Rapping! She is a great talent and I intend to purchase her recording if it is available.

Kimberly and Scott,
I have watched the film 3 times today (4/30/09), it was the realist depiction of the aftermath of Katrina I have seen to date. How you had the foresight to record before and during the storm was "Amazing". In my humble opinion your film was better than Spike Lee's Katrina film. Yours came from the heart and it is obvious you care about your people and they care about you. I absolutely love your rapping (and I'm 57 yrs. old). Damn, girl you are outstanding, I will defiantly buy your CD. Have you performed in Baton Rouge? If not, consider it, because I will be there.
Even though it might take me a couple of times to understand what you are spitting, I love listening.
The film was hard to watch at times but many of the feeling I experienced working with survivors at a shelter here in Baton Rouge came back to surface. A wrong was committed in 2005 and it has not been corrected. Black people of Louisiana must be made whole. Glad to see you all are still fighting to right the many wrongs.

God bless you Kimberly...I was deeply moved by your loving spirit and your determination. I am not a rap fan but will definitely purchase your c.d. to show
my support. I wish you and your husband the very best. You will go very far.

You and your family are beautiful and inspiring. God has shined on you. I know you don't need me to tell you , but you are amazing. Thank you for helping me through a tough time I'm going through. Seeing your courage in the midst of so much makes me feel that I can make it too. God bless you and you family forever.

A powerful film. One of the most inspiring, proud, heartwrenching things I have ever seen in my life. It doesn't matter where you come from to show compassion, to have dignity and to show a love for your neighbor. And to exibit such class in the wake of America turning it's back on The people of the Gulf is truly "Amazing". I've been telling everyone who will listen to please see this film!! Your family, Brian and the neighbor with the punching bag are great American Heroes. Also to Black America(which I am a proud part of), turn off the Tyler Perry bufoonery for a minute and watch this important documentary. It should change your life and the way everyone should face adversity.

Utterly fantastic piece of filmaking!!! Scott family and friends, you are the true role models. They say the measure of a man is not when things are going great, but when you are in your darkest hour, and it couldn't get any darker than what you and the people of the Gulf have faced. In this age of information, negative stories of murder and mayhem, and just plain craziness in the world, your testimony has taught me more about the power of goodness, faith and redemption, more than any church could ever, ever, do!!! God bless you Black Kold Medina, God Bless your husband, God Bless Brian and God Bless your neighbor who was an enemy but stepped up big time in your community's moment of truth. God is real!!!

This was a very inspirational movie. It made me cry a little because I've been through this, and if your not from Louisiana you won't understand what we went through.

no matter what the media says, or tries to portray many african americans as less than or ignorant(refugess). you are all heart, a inspriration, a testimony to what black pride, love for one another, endurance, that spirit that can't be dupilcated or broken is all about. We often come from humble circumstances but as Ms. Kimberly showed, we are survivors. I love you my sister. You make me proud. Please drop the CD so I can purchase it. If you ever want to put your story in print I would be honored to do that, although you are so powerful I am sure you have already got that covered. Stay strong your spirit is aww-inspiring, I know I will see you at the top soon. Much love.

Kim and Scott...as fate in the hands of God would have it, I received your film by netflix and watched it this morning--August 29, 2009. I didn't realize I was watching on the anniversary...

Powerful story, powerful people within and behind the story. I admire you both and the filmmakers who joined you. Amazing how God used a hurricane like Katrina to show you so much about yourself, the people of New Orleans, and the devastating ravages of poverty in the world. Thank you for telling us your story/their story.

Kim, I expect to see you continue to make a real difference with your gift for words, music, communication. Our name "Kim" means "one who courageously leads the people." Your mama is no doubt so proud of you and all you have become and all you do--no question she is watching over you.

God bless--

Kimberly and Scott, you are both Angels of God. I wish you all the blessings you deserve. In a society so full of hatred, hypocrisy, poverty and racism--great people like you emerge to be of service to others... I am sending you lots of love and I wish I could hug you both. We have a real struggle right here in our own country and limited resources but even through it all "GOD GOT US!"
Take care of yourselves and that beautiful child of yours.


I watched the documentary this morning 01/11/10, I was deeply moved by the entire footage and the strength that Kim and her husband Scott showed as a strong young couple. Her rap inspired me. I kept replaying scenes from the film over and over in my head. It is an outrage the way our government treated the people of New Orleans. Regardless of them being poor,black, and some uneducated- these were Americans! American citizens on American soil. They were treated like animals. This could have easily been my family. I feel like I know Kim personally. I also pray that Brain can gain hope in life and refrain from drugs. But I can't imagine what it would be like to live after going through something so horrible as the people there that survived did. The blood is on everybody hands that turned away from helping the citizens that needed food, shelter, and water. The national guards that aimed their guns at someone mom or dad, grandmother, or brother. May they answer to God for that. Amd I wiil not say verbally what I wish to happen to our then President Bush. I pray that God give them the justice they deserve.

To Kim and Scott God Bless you! When I saw your documentary I just didnt know it was that horrible i live in Ark and I can remember when New Orleans residents were coming into the state. I knew it was bad but this takes it to a whole different level. I cryed so just from watching the film and i noticed you were so strong I just think you held it together good, at a time i probally would have been, I dont know the word maybe overwhelmed no scared as hell.I think we need more people like you in the world a world were its hard to trust anyone I think you Scott and the other guy were a Godsend to those around you. Keep doing what you doing because you are positive and a good inspiration to young black females. All that you have overcome and still have the good attitude thats what im talking about!God Bless all of Louisiana!

I have a friend in the United States who is constantly telling me how terrible the government is to its people. His statements never rang more true after watching "Trouble the Water". I have never been so offended as a human being to see so many people in need -being ignored by a governing body that had the resources to provide for the people. The scene at the Naval Base and their fear of National Security being compromised was one of the turning points for me.

Kim, Scott, Brian, Larry and the rest of the people featured in this film- you gave me so much inspiration watching you help your fellow man. To share what little you had with your community and to have the love in your heart to take care of those around you made me plead with God to make more people like you. The selfishness that has taken over our society is clouding our instinctual need to have one another for support. I hope that you all see some action from the Louisiana/Federal Government and get the respect you deserve as citizens of one of the self proclaimed "Best Countries On Earth". God Bless you all.

P.S I am totally going to purchase your album. Your words are so moving and need to be shared with the world!

Thank you Kimberly and Scott!
I'm a 50 year male with a wife and 3 grown children. I work as a Wildlife biologist and National Wildlife Refuge Manager in California for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I spent a month in Mississippi and the following month in New Orleans beginning two weeks after Katrina to try and help with the recovery. I was then and still am ashamed of how our government responded and treated the people of the Gulf at that time.
I didn't come close to what you two did for all the people that were experiencing extreme adversity in your city during and after the storm. I'm truly humbled.

kim and your wonderful husband that GOD blessed you with you two are angeles from above sista your rap is out of this world the best eva im 57 years and i love it may GOD keep blessing you and yours

My wife and I just watched the Movie, Trouble the Water. We live in Seattle,Wa. and you have opened our eyes in the truth of the streets and not just a Government propaganda version.

Thank You for your views and the Truth and just how the Government left all of you to fend for yourself.

Ty! Troy & Pam

Trouble the water was great!! Kim and Scott you both are truly AMAZING! :)
Where can I get a CD??

I am a 51 year white women who just got done seeing "Trouble the Water." I was completely moved during the entire movie. Growing up in a very prejudice environment I was constantly surrounded by negative comments and attitudes targeted at African Americans. Even as a child I knew how wrong those comments/attitudes were and would speak up to people who voiced them. As a mother I have always tried to teach my children that they have no right to judge anyone (that's God's job), and that you should always try to see the person inside, not what shows on the outside. We are all human beings first and foremost. Kim, Scott, Paul, and all the other victims in this movie proved that every single person on this earth is a worthy person.

Kim, how I admire you!!! How I admire all the people who suffered through Katrina and who suffer with poverty. You had such a difficult childhood and life leading up to Katrina, it's amazing that you still have love and God in your heart. When I heard your song "Amazing" I was completely blown away. You and your story are "amazing"!

It is DISGUSTING how our government turned their back on the poor in New Orleans. The government should be completely ashamed of themselves along with that idiot George Bush. We are constantly running to the aide of foreign countries and we didn't even take care of our own citizens. It's truly ridiculous.

Kim I wish you and your family and friends nothing but the best in life, you all so deserve it. You are all superb human beings!! I pray God showers you all with blessings.

i loved this movie. finally an "amazing" documentory showing what really happend to the poor people in New Orleans. the government really needs to be held responsible for crimes against humanity, racial descrimination, and major money allocations towards the neighborhoods instead of the french quarters tourist attractions. thanks you to the Robersts family you are the true heros of the people. also the guards who left the prisoners for dead should be fired and criminal charges braught against them.

Well it is 2011 and the documentary is still being shown on public television and I was truly moved and feel pain for all the victims. U and your fam are really amazing keep being a blessing and God will continue to bless!


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