One of the questions I never asked in Stare in the Darkness (because it wasn't a "how to" book) was "how might we use rap and hip-hop progressively?" There are literally dozens of efforts across the world to connect rap and hip-hop to progressive movements. Although hip-hop wasn't responsible for the Egyptian uprising, it definitely represented the soundtrack.
Inspired by Jared Ball's I Mix What I Like, I came up with an idea about inspiring the creation of locally produced politically important rap and hip-hop, via the concept of the MC battle/poetry slam.
I talked to Jared, to Zeke Berzoff-Cohen (co-founder of The Intersection), Chris Baron (High School Debate Program Manager of The Baltimore Urban Debate League, Lawrence Grandpre Vice-President of Research for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and Darius Wilmore (one of hip-hop's first graphic designers). We'd sponsor a contest and give prizes to the best rap and spoken word. And we'd call it The Baltimore Mixtape Project.
Where does the politics come in?
THe rap/spoken word has to deal with a pertinent local political issue. Perhaps the most important issue facing Baltimore youth is the school to prison pipeline. In the City of Baltimore plans are underfoot to build a $100million prison complex for the purpose of housing youth charged as adults. So we chose that as the issue. The name of the first contest? Battle:Bar None.
We rolled out the project for the public on Marc Steiner. Listen here.
We're trying to do it on a scale that allows for duplication with limited resources. We're keeping it local to keep it manageable. We're using networks we have in the school and in the neighborhood to raise awareness about it. There's already a pre-existing movement around the issue here in Baltimore so we're not trying to create a movement from scratch as much as we are trying to help give legs to activists who've already been working on the issue. And there's already a powerful local rap and hip-hop community here. There are kids making beats and rhymes for DAYS here. It's just about nudging what's here.
And although we are giving prizes to the top three folk, our plan is to use as much of the submissions as we can to create a several volume mixtape that we'd then distribute throughout the city.
If you've read up to now I assume you're interested. How can you help?
1. We've started a Kickstarter page to raise money for the project. Kickstarter for those unaware is a web-based way to fundraise. If you're interested enough to donate to the cause please feel free. And if you don't have money but have product (art, books–i'm giving away signed copies of Stare in the Darkness, Jared Ball is giving away signed copies of The Mixtape Manifesto) to lend to the effort contact me.
2. If you know institutions who'd be interested in funding part of this please let us know.
3. If you'd like to help with the judging or any other aspect of the event (generating publicity, interviewing people associated with it, talking to kids about it, giving kids with the rhymes but no resources access to studios and the like) please contact me.
4. Spread the word. We've got the Kickstarter page, we've got a Facebook page. The website is coming.
We're all pretty excited about this and would love to see it spread.