Hope Thru Hip-Hop: A fresh after-school program for Philly’s youth

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Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

When I was in high school, there were no hip-hop oriented after school programs to help cultivate my talent. All I had since I started rapping at age fourteen were whatever beats I could steal from random tapes, a notebook and my own brain to learn as much as I could about the craft I was beginning to pursue. I would have loved to have an organized group of mentors and peers to share in my love of hip-hop and to help develop what I wanted to do within the culture. Fortunately for the hip-hop inclined youth of Philadelphia, there is such a program: Hip-Hop Heritage, meeting at The Academy at Palumbo in South Philly.

When Aaron Sarkar, the Youth Programs Director for Hip-Hop Heritage, asked me to come perform for the kids and to speak about my own experiences as a hip-hop artist, I immediately obliged. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak to young aspiring hip-hop artists and enthusiasts like I wish someone had done for me, so this was something I was anxious to check off my bucket list.

Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

Powered by nonprofit organization SEAMAAC, Hip-Hop Heritage covers every aspect of hip-hop culture, educating and training teenagers in all the elements, not just rapping. As I entered the classroom, I first noticed the bright graffiti art adorning all the walls, painted by students. I marveled at the explosive breakdancers practicing in the dance studio adjacent to the classroom.

Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

I was impressed by the recording studio across the hall, where teacher Nathaniel Pyfrom helped the kids record their own music, compiling a Hip-Hop Heritage mixtape. The program seemed to be a well-oiled, multifaceted machine, and I was even more excited to connect with these kids.

Before I performed, a few of the students got up to rock their own original songs, and after intently watching, I can honestly say that the future of Philly hip-hop is in good hands. From modern “turnt up” trap-styled party songs, to socially conscious boom-bap tracks, to the good ol’ gritty street rap the 215 is known for, many colors in the tapestry of hip-hop were properly represented by these teens. Standout performers included Glenn Harden, Amir Nuriddin and Calvin Ligons.

Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

After some of the youngest opening acts I ever had were done, Nathaniel gave me a quick intro and I went directly into my recent single “Non-Stop” (a much cleaner, self-edited version, of course). Some of the students were already familiar with me, but some were not ready; their hype, surprised reactions to my punchlines were priceless. One student walked over to me as soon as I finished the song to say “I ain’t expect that at all! That was crazy!” After thanking him, I used the young man’s compliment as a segue into telling my now-captivated audience that it doesn’t matter what you look like, or what particular sound(s) you decide to use in your music, as long as you have the talent and perfect your craft, you will garner respect regardless.

I then pulled up a chair for a laid-back rendition of “Angel Dust”, a single from my Insatiable album, followed by an a capella verse that I spontaneously decided to spit when the kids said they wanted to hear more. I closed by offering some words of encouragement to not only the aspiring rappers, but also the dancers, visual artists, DJs and producers in the room, telling them that with constant dedication, openness to constructive criticism and practice, practice and more practice, nothing can stop them from accomplishing whatever they want to with their talents. That may sound corny to some, but I am one of the many examples that it’s true, and I’m thankful to be able to spread that motivation to the youth of the city that shaped me as a rapper.

Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

Hip-Hop Heritage is a supremely positive program, offering numerous avenues for teenagers in Philly to exercise their talents and passions related to rap music as a culture. I was impressed with the way it was organized by Mr. Sarkar and Mr. Pyfrom, and pleased with the enthusiasm and potential of the participating students. After I was done speaking, a bunch of the kids came up to shake hands, take pictures and ask questions about not only my music, but life as an artist in general, which I was more than happy to answer. When one of the young men looked me in the eyes and said I was inspiring, I was left speechless for a couple seconds before thanking him and replying that he inspired me too. No matter how many times I hear someone say it, being told I’m an inspiration is something that can never be taken for granted. And a quality after school program like Hip-Hop Heritage shouldn’t be either. If you or someone you know are a young person interested in developing hip-hop related talents, check them out ASAP.

Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

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