Hiphop is a menace. Right-wing pundits frequently blast rappers for their lyrics, so-called black leaders spend their capital grumbling about the work of black pop musicians, and Don Imus helped make hiphop the hottest scapegoat since Willie Horton. What barely registers is the fact that hiphop artists give back to their neighborhoods and cities everyday, directly, in very real ways. The only laundry you don't hear aired out about hiphoppers is their community service.
While it shouldn't be surprising that lots of Seattle-area MCs, DJs, b-boys, and aerosol artists are deeply committed to community service, you'd be forgiven if it were. Many only knew about DJ DV One's résumé of selfless service after his high-profile assault case. Sportn' Life Records' co-CEO and rapper D.Black—who himself has been described on more than one occasion as a "gangsta rapper"—is in fact heavily involved in the Union Gospel Mission, having worked in their middle-school program and now looking to get involved with their high-school program.
Similarly, the socially aware raps of artists on local label Mass Line Media are all buoyed by their very real presence in the community centers and schools. "I'm not formally involved with any organizations as far as that goes," says MC Gabriel Teodros, who's in area schools on almost a weekly basis, performing as well as teaching songwriting and recording to teens. "It's real random for me. I'm in a different school all the time talking to these kids. I wish I was at a single site consistently." Teodros also mentors kids in the Youth Speaks programs, and records young up-and-coming MCs in his home for free.
"When Blue Scholars first started in like '03, Saba and I both were very involved in the campus thing," Blue Scholars MC Geologic explains. "Basic shit—volunteering, tutoring high-school kids. I got involved with an organization called Anakbayan, doing things at the Filipino Community Center—from '03 to '06, teaching high-school kids everything from history to martial arts." Geo officially left the student-run Anakbayan, but along with other young artists and professionals he is now in the Arts Kollective; through Bayan USA, an alliance of progressive Filipino organizations, he is involved in numerous nationally coordinated projects.
Over in Beacon Hill, Jefferson Community Center swarms with b-boys and b-girls every Monday and Friday night, when South Seattle's globetrotting b-boy crew Massive Monkees gives free lessons to kids from all over. "Massive is a group that by nature gives back to the community, without worrying about the recognition," explains manager Benito Ybarra. "Back in the day, DVS Crew [the foundational 206 crew] used to teach the kids, and we carry on that tradition." Most of the crew work in community centers, or exclusively as teachers of the craft; classes are taught at the Vera Project, Velocity Dance Center, and Mercer and Denny middle schools. On or around April 26—the day the mayor declared Massive Monkees Day—MM have a citywide throwdown, Seattle's biggest b-boying event. Like many of their other happenings, it's a benefit and canned-food drive for Northwest Harvest. Their global rep extends to their charity; they've traveled to London two years running to perform at The Prince's Trust Urban Music Festival (whose proceeds go to programs for inner-city youth) and been flown out as guests of honor to the prefecture of Kochi, Japan. As far as they've come, they continue to fully give back to the community that birthed them.
"There're so many active artist-teachers out here," says Teodros. "I would say Seattle probably has to be number two at least with all the hiphop cats here that are involved in teaching and community building."
Hiphop is not just the soundtrack to high-gloss ghetto nihilism that 50 Cent and Bill O'Reilly would have you believe (shocking, right?). The music is inherently a product of its surroundings. It only makes sense that its purveyors take care of the neighborhoods that provide home and family and inspiration. With the right mentors guiding this latest Generation Hiphop, the music can be more than just a means of expression. Says Geo: "For some kids, honestly, the music is a fast track to getting actively involved."