Be a father, if not, why bother, son? / A boy can make ’em, but a man can raise one.

– Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs, “Be A Father To Your Child” (1991)

Fuck wrong with these bitches lately? / Bitches better get on they knees and praise me.

– 2 Chainz, “I Luv Dem Strippers” (2012)

With every creation myth comes the offering of values, and the same holds true for the birth of hip hop. A musical genre born in the 70’s and formed in the 80’s, hip hop originated as an expression of joy and triumph against a wealthier mainstream current. These days, it seems like more rappers than ever are bulldozing the foundations that hip hop’s forefathers laid, in the name of profit. Artists like 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, and Young Money stacked billboard’s 2014 Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artists year-end chart, spewing derogatory lyrics on the airwaves like Agent Orange over the fields of Vietnam. Hip hop is in desperate need of transformation.

And in Cambridge, Mass., it has begun. Founded in 2013, The Hip Hop Transformation (THHT)—a summer program for teens aged 14-18 at the Cambridge Community Center (CCC)—seeks to empower kids by teaching them the history of hip hop, how to produce beats, and how to make rap songs, while instilling skills such as leadership, collaboration, creativity, and accountability. Though the program currently only runs in the summer, many of the participants come to the CCC year-round to work on their musical projects.

“I have living proof that if you can get the kids engaged, you can teach them whatever you want,” said Darrin Korte, founder and program director of THHT. He was sitting next to Brandon Lewis, aka Lotus, one of the program participants, who is enrolling in community college classes with plans to pursue music business administration. “He came into the program with not much to lose,” said Korte. “Now he has everything to lose.”

I met Korte and Lewis in THHT’s studio, a small room equipped with professional monitors, a piano, microphones, and other recording hardware, which veteran Boston music producer The Arcitype designed using grant money Korte had secured.

Although there’s audio gear at hand and music to be made, a history lesson comes first. THHT’s curriculum includes learning the history of hip hop and race relations, as well as educating the kids on the current state of the hip-hop industry. “They don’t even get to rap until I’m confident that they understand that,” Korte said.

Lewis laughed. “He didn’t even let us see the studio until we watched, like, eight videos.”

Another of THHT’s biggest goals is to engage the community as a whole by holding shows around Cambridge and Boston at venues like Hard Rock Café and Lilypad. “We don’t want to just teach hip hop—we want to live hip hop,” Korte said, citing hip hop’s origins in community centers and parks. “We are a community center.”

In fact, Korte calls the shows they put on “outreach events,” with the emphasis on introducing the community to what authentic hip hop sounds like. “We’re out there to spread the message and the power of hip hop,” he said.

Some of the most talented artists in the area have joined the movement; in THHT’s limited existence, they’ve worked with Natural Born Spitters, Akrobatik, Dutch ReBelle, Latrell James, STL GLD, Lightfoot, Fran-P, and Bakari J.B., among others.

J.B., who first met Korte where he records in Cambridge—The Bridge Sound and Stage—contributes to the program because he appreciates THHT’s community involvement and their efforts to help make young adults better people. “Not to mention, the kids were extremely talented,” J.B. told me a few days after I’d spoken with Korte and Lewis. “I’m not just saying this because of my affiliation. I’m saying this because I was impressed with the beats and the rhymes I was hearing.”

Korte is grateful for all the accomplished hip-hop artists who participate in the program, as he admitted it could become corny very quickly since it is associated with the Cambridge Police Department and Health Alliance. “It’s the connections with the artists in the local hip-hop scene that make it real,” Korte said. “It’s not just ‘let’s teach positive rap and rap about flowers and butterflies.’ That’s not what this program is about.”

When I asked to clarify that they did not have any songs about flowers and butterflies, Korte laughed. “No, but he’ll make one for you, though,” he said, looking at Lewis.

Despite its small beginnings, THHT has started to gain momentum. In year one, Korte had kids who had never rapped before; they still managed to put out a nine-song album. In the second summer, the program attracted kids via word of mouth who were interested in specifically making hip hop. This upcoming summer, Korte expects a waitlist, and said they will have to determine with the Police Department which kids would benefit most from participating.

With hopes of expanding the program, securing year-round funding, and ultimately someday bringing THHT to other cities, Korte and Co. are dreaming big. Join the fam.

2 Responses

  1. DJay $prigg$

    Hi – I’d like to get a review for my mixtape series “This Is Our F*cking City!!!” featuring exclusively Boston based artists. Thanks!

    -DJay $prigg$

    Reply
    • Knar Bedian
      Knar Bedian

      Please submit your mixtape through our submissions form under our “About Us” section in order for it to be considered for review. Thanks!

      Reply

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