A crowd of about 250 gather in the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium as an incoming freshman at UW-Madison and first poet takes the stage.
"God decides who is saved or not, so leave it up to him," he says of the gay-marriage rights debate. "People never get to share in matrimony because they are anatomically similar...You say you speak for God, but God never talked about ignorance."
The crowd gazes as the poet denounces hypocrisy, misogyny and bigotry. Applause erupts as he ends: "You don’t have to accept (gay-marriage rights), just respect it."
The poet is one of 15 in the First Wave Spoken word and Urban Arts learning community. The program, to start in the fall, is a UW-Madison community for bright youth to use hip-hop in education.
This Friday night meeting brings together the new school with the old school as four MC's initiate the next generation, talking of the history of hip hop and where it has come.
From Left: Baba Israel, K-Swift, Queen God-Is and Jamaican native DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop.
"I didn’t think Hip Hop would get this far." says D.J. Kool Herc. "Now it's a tool to reach kids."
But before hip-hop was a movement, Herc says the musical influence started with his father, who infused in him a cornucopia of music to train the ear: Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, James Brown.
Herc built monster sound systems, using records as his tools. Starting from block parties in the 1970s, he says the goal was to bring people together.
"Don't smoke pot in here. You got a problem with someone, take it outside."
And so started the hip-hop movement, and an interactive culture that would evolve into a form of teaching.
"This is a dream come true," says Baba Israel, an international touring artist. Hip-hop "is a powerful way to engage young people, but also to open up teachers..."
When he was in school, Baba Israel notes how poetry and the urban arts were not encouraged, how he had to do poetry, rhymes on the side.
"It made me think about race, history, racial injustice," he says. "I wasn’t getting it from teachers, I got it from the music. Kids who sat silent in the back of the room, are now at the front of the class."
Hip-Hop artist and educator K-Swift added that he was one of those kids who secretly used urban art to learn. At age 12, he says he wrote rhymes, got interested in literature, and even used rhymes, mnemonics to learn chemistry and biology.
"It's about expanding your mind through the art," K-Swift says. He's happy that institutions like UW are taking not of this potential. "There's nothing as extensive and comprehensive as what's going on here."
That some teachers ignore the ability of hip-hop to be a tool, tending to ignore the identities of students, is a travesty to hip-hop artist and producer Queen God-Is.
"You can’t teach kids with your back to them," she says.
God-Is explains that students already have poetry, physics, biology within their everyday experience, and it's up to teachers to bring it out in a way that kids understand.
The four panelists agreed that the divisions among music, be it hip-hop, rock, metal, jazz, were infinitely less important than musics common story-telling character. In that way, music that speaks to individuals can be used to unite, and ultimately, to enact positive change.
"If it is music that’s good for people, I’ll play it," says Herc. "Listen to music that makes you want to do something for your future."
The First Wavers all clapped before more of their spoken word performances implied that the future would be bright.
A last performance by a member of the First Wave program for select incoming UW-Madison freshmen.
For more information on Youth Speaks Wisconsin and the First Wave learning community, see UW-Madison's Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives Web site.
See a related post.