Friday, May 11, 2007

Hip-Hop for Hope 2006: Creating Common Grounds

November 16th, 2006
New Orleans, LA-
It was a cool November day in New Orleans as the sun was setting over the Mississippi River. The sounds of a local brass band echoed down the blocks and through the neighborhoods as curious residents arched their necks to get a view of the crowd gathering down the road. It was clear that something unusual was happening in the city, as young students and families began to trickle in to the massive parking lot on the corner of Tchopitoulous and Napolean. It was the first annual Hip-Hop for Hope Block Party and Benefit Concert- an event hosted by a group of Tulane students with the help of local businesses and community organizations, to raise money for the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology. Teachers from the school, along with dozens of students and their families, joined in on the celebration, dancing to the sounds of Da Truth Brass Band and enjoying the variety of food and games. There were dozens of tables where local community organizations passed out information to raise awareness about a variety of issues that effect the New Orleans community, including the environment, HIV/AIDS, violence, leadership and education. Criminal Sheriff of New Orleans, Marlin D. Gusman, stopped by towards the end of the Block Party to deliver a heart-felt speech about the importance of education and the need to work together to end the tragic violence that had been taking a toll on the city. As the sun set, luminaries lit the area and the crowd lit candles as the brass band led a traditional Second Line march from the block party stage, across the street to the doors of the legendary music venue, Tipitina’s. The march symbolized the participants’ commitment to ending the violence so often affecting the hip-hop community.
As the crowd began to pour in through the doors, they were met by the upbeat rhythms of the Soul Rebels Brass Band, one of New Orleans’ premier live hip-hop acts. DJ Soul Sista, a well-respected local DJ, was excited about the event, saying “This benefit for hope gives me hope that the younger kids still care about hip hop activism .” She was especially excited about the musical lineup, which she described as “large, varied and impressive, including both established artists and some you've never heard of”. Along with the Soul Rebels, the event featured performances by acts such as Baby Boy da Prince, Outlaw Nation, Jimi Clever, Impulss, Dam Nathan, Soapbox, J-Dubble, 5th Child, Nomadic Souls, and a variety of other local MC’s and groups. The resident D.J. for the night was the prolific, E.F. Cuttin, who donated his time in support of the mission. Baby Boy, whose recently released hit single “This is the Way We Live”, was one of the crowd favorites, getting huge applause as he switched effortlessly between rapping the verses of his hit song and dancing on his head. Local MC, Jimi Clever, struck a profound note with the crowd when performing his single “Shine Your Light”, and autobiographical song about his tragic experience during Hurricane Katrina. The crowd itself brought an energy to the event rarely seen since the tragedy of the storm, composed of an eclectic mix of local college students, young professionals and hip-hop heads. Despite the wide variety of social backgrounds present at the event, the crowd moved as one unit, shouting at the top of their lungs for every artist, from the young up and coming MC’s to the well established acts. The Hip-Hop for Hope staff, comprised of a class of Tulane University students, sold T-Shirts and raffle tickets near the door. English Professor, Nghana Lewis, taught the class, entitled “Hip-Hop and HIV/AIDS”, as part of Tulane’s post-Katrina “Service Learning” program. Lewis and her students used the semester to help organize and execute the event, whose main aim was to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and education in New Orleans. Despite limited resources and huge obstacles, there have been a number of events, programs and projects to help New Orleans bounce back after the storm, many of which have been led by local Colleges and Universities, as well as individuals in the music community. The students involved in organizing the event are looking forward to expanding the event in years to come to incorporate more community participation as well as other forms of hip-hop expression, like graffiti art, step and breaking competitions and spoken word.

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