Featured Photo Image Credit: Donda’s House Inc. (left) and Kanye West (right)
Mainstream Hip Hop and Rap music today is missing one important quality – honesty. In a recent post, I discussed how African American Traditional Gospel is the foundation of many contemporary styles, including Hip-Hop. It seems that there is a lack of soul and that “conscious” rap has been given a bad rep, to the point that artists exhibiting that style have been blacklisted from mainstream outlets (this has been debated for years but I believe that it’s true).
BET agreed to put it on the network but didn’t not to put it on 106 & Park which is interesting considering that 106 & Park was the most popular show on the network for music at the time. I watched the video myself and it wasn’t violent at all. It touched on a lot of topics that aren’t shown on the network, like police brutality (the shooting of Oscar Grant), mass incarceration and the lack of quality education in schools.
BET is a discussion for another day but they’re not the only outlet that clearly only pushes certain types of music, “conscious” not included. Conscious rap is performed to raise awareness about social and political issues…so mainstream representatives are basically saying “we won’t market you because we don’t want you to educate and wake up our listeners.”
This makes me wonder if young, upcoming artists feel encouraged enough to share real experiences and knowledge since there aren’t many getting mainstream promotion.
Thankfully, artists like Rhymefest, still care about the craft and want to give young artists the tools to create music so that the “soul” of the genres does not get lost. The late Donda West, mother of rapper Kanye West, wanted to provide a safe, welcoming space for youth to receive high quality arts instruction.
For those of you who don’t know, arts and music programs have been dropped from school programs and are usually the first to go when dealing with budget cuts.
Dr. West — English professor and entertainment manager inspired her students to be fearless, just as she did while mentoring her son during the early stages of his career. Kanye is helping to fulfill his mother’s vision. When she passed away, he lost her and someone who guided him during his rise in the music industry.
Many of the students that he’s helping don’t have parents or any mentors at all. With this program, Rhymefest and Kanye are using the spiritual healing benefits of Hip Hop as therapy for Chicago’s youth.
RhymeFest and Kanye West teamed up to start a program called Got Bars for Donda’s House, Inc. It provides creative opportunities such as open mics, rap battles and recording sessions for young artists. Donda’s House, Inc. was created to provide arts education to youth.
They wanted to create a safe and supportive, 90’s inspired atmosphere for young conscious rappers aged 14-24.
The students take Creative Writing, Health & Wellness and Studio Recording classes three times a week for a 12 week span. Participants create portfolios of original songs, perform their work at a final showcase and upon successfully completing the program, become lifetime members.
A scene from “The Field” Documentary set in Chicago’s gives a deeper look into a group session with the artists and Rhymefest.
“Your momma and your daddy died when you were young right?, your brother just died right?” he asked one of the students.
He paused, looked down, then up at the student and said “I aint heard that story.” “It’s sitting there” the student replied.
“That’s your most profound rap sitting inside of you and you’re talking about killing somebody else” Rhymefest added.
The student, crying, said “it’s hard, everyday it’s hard.” “Why is it hard?” Rhymefest asked. “Because i’m tired of living like this…it’s like..there’s no option because some days…you wake up [and] you wanna be that good person…and some days you just gotta do some things you don’t want to do. That’s why I come here, so I can get away from that.”
“Do you feel like you’re learning something here?” Rhymefest asked.
“Yeah…I feel like it’s helping me find out what I wanna do [because] growing up without parents…you don’t really know who you are some days…and I keep losing people…” The student replied.
Rhymefest then dropped some real advice, glancing at the entire group of students as he spoke:
“You ever heard the saying pick your battles? I say scratch that, pick your enemy because…you aint gotta pick the battles one by one if you choose your enemy.”
He turns to the student: “Your enemy is the fact that everybody around you is dropping and you gotta beat whatever that is…you gotta be the leader to lead your family out of that. You’re gonna have children one day, you’re gonna have a wife, you’re gonna be successful, you gotta conquer whatever that is man. You know what i’m saying? You can do that.”
Rhymefest believes that his career didn’t take off as much as he hoped because he was supposed to be at the program and now that he is where he’s supposed to be, the opportunities are endless.
Donda’s House continues to put Dr. Donda West’s mission into action. The talented youth are able to use the skills and portfolio material to audition for the T.I.P. Fest (Teens In The Park), the largest platform for Chicago artists to network (over 3,000 teens attended the festival in 2015).
They also have Behind The Music/Behind The Label Events, a lecture series Q&A discussion led by big names in the industry (past guests include Chance The Rapper, Big Sean, Grammy Award Winning Record Executive Amir Windom). Current students and graduates of the “Got Bars” program have described it as a life changing experience that has helped them to confidently share their extraordinary stories through music.
For more information, follow Donda’s House Inc. on Instagram and Twitter @dondashouse and Facebook (Donda’s House Inc.).
Do you think that schools are making a good decision to eliminate funding for music and arts programs?