“Freestylin’ 101: Hip-Hop D.I.Y.” (Do It Yourself) was the course of the day for some Berkeley Technology Academy students last week.
At the Grammy Career Day national outreach program held at San Francisco State University last Wednesday, the hip-hop course was just one of the 13 classes that Bay Area students could choose from.
Organized by the Grammy Foundation, “Grammy in the Schools: Careers in Music” drew more than 800 teenagers who saw first-hand how to scratch, write songs and record a hit from some of the top names in the music business.
“The workshop has given these 21 B-Tech students new eyes, new hope,” said Michael McBride, B-Tech student support services director, who was at the event with the students. “We brought them here today with the mandate that when we go back, we would use their knowledge from the workshops to start an arts program in the school.”
He added that the event had introduced the kids to the multiplicity of music, something that had been absent before.
“Most of these youngsters have grown up listening to either gangster or sexually explicit music,” McBride said. “They are ignorant about the beauty of classical music, the historical legacy of jazz and the inspirational powers of gospel. Things changed with these workshops.”
As the group from B-Tech split up into smaller clusters to pursue the workshop of their choice, the biggest crowds could be seen at the Hip-Hop and Rock Band Master classes.
Renowned blues/rock drummer Larry Vann, who was teaching students how to get into the groove of rock and roll, said the program was phenomenal.
“This is the best time to catch these kids,” Vann said. “The talent is fresh and the kids are eager to learn.”
Next door, B-Tech student Julian Mcgee was having a good time rapping with RadioActive and getting his music mixed by producer Knocademus.
“I learned that I can just take a mike and make music myself,” said Julian. “There are a lot of jobs in hip-hop and I want to make best use of that opportunity.”
McBride said that although there was a lot of budding talent at B-Tech, many challenges laying the students’ path.
“Private music lessons can be very expensive, and most of the kids at B-Tech don’t have that kind of money,” he said. “That is why it is up to the school to do something for them. We are trying to expose them to as many different things as possible. Sometimes music is the best way to enter the arts.”
B-Tech has its fair share of poets, who McBride said would excel in literature if given the proper encouragement.
Merl Saunders Jr., senior executive director of the San Francisco Chapter of The Recording Academy—which works in partnership with the foundation—said the program has been inspiring school students for the last 14 years.
“It’s the energy of the kids that amazes me every year,” Saunders said. “This year the trend is in digital music. With websites such as MySpace and YouTube anybody can showcase their music to the world today. There are thousands of musicians to choose from and the possibilities of being an independent artist are limitless. Students need to know the inside of the music business well and who better to learn it from than the pros? It’s the musicians way of giving back to the community.”
Tommy Copes, a senior at B-Tech, said that the workshop “Career Tracks Behind the Scenes” had educated him about money matters in the music industry.
“I learned it’s not all about 50 Cents showing off his gold chains and his fancy cars,” he said. “A lot of these famous artists are actually living in debt. Being a musician is serious business and it’s easy to go bankrupt if you don’t handle your money carefully.”
Tommy said he wanted to grow up to become a gospel artist and he said he would start by sending his demos and songs to record labels after graduating.
Derrick Underwood, a junior at B-Tech, praised master turntablist Travis “DJ Pone” Rimando for teaching him the moves.
“I learned to scratch. Before I didn’t even know what it was called,” he said smiling. “We learned the history of D.J.ing, the techniques and the tricks.”
Underwood added that he was also looking at the possibility of applying to San Francisco State after graduation to pursue its music program.
Photograph by Riya Bhattacharjee. B-tech student Julian McGee raps with RadioActive and gets his music mixed by producer Knocademus at the GrammyCareer Day event at San Francisco State University.