Inside the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club on Martin Luther King Junior Way South, balls fly, packs of kids sprint around, and laughter echoes off the walls of the gymnasium. Across from the basketball courts are doors to a music studio. Huddled over a soundboard there, constructing a beat, are three 15-year-olds and Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces. It's a fat city beat with teeth, and the foursome sways to it. Maraire is the music and arts director here. Over the past year, he's revamped the music program, created a curriculum, and is in the process of turning the studio into a legitimate place to record. All phases are taught, including video. All kids have to do is sign up. In threes, they can come into the studio and work with Sub Pop recording artist Maraire, who grew up on Orcas Street about a mile away.

The studio and the program need money to make them fly. So to raise funds and awareness, Tendai has put together a benefit CD and show called For the Love of Music. Contributors include Shabazz Palaces, Sir Mix-A-Lot, THEESatisfaction, Champagne Champagne, Mad Rad, Macklemore, Fresh Espresso, Mash Hall, and more. Recording is taking place at the Boys & Girls Club, so the kids can see the process firsthand and be a part of it. And that's just how Maraire wants it.

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What's your goal with this project?

I want to teach the kids to be self-sufficient. You can't make it in the music industry today if you're not self-sufficient. The notion that someone is going to walk in the room and give you a $2 million deal because you rap is so far out the door. I think kids need to comprehend that. One of the kids I'm working with, Jamal, got to watch (and film) Buffalo Madonna when he came in here to record for this CD, and it was huge for him. Jamal's mother told me in a phone conversation that Jamal had learned a lot seeing the way one of them was so serious. The way Buffalo walked into the studio, took his shirt off, got into a zone, and then nailed his stuff. I told her, that's exactly why I wanted Jamal to see people like that. That's why I want these kids to see real sessions and be around professionals. That's what I'm trying to do with the program. 'Cause when you see that, you realize, these guys aren't joking. This is serious business.

What's your method of teaching?

I think hands-on is best. That way they have a real understanding. I want them to learn the basics, too, from the ground up. So they can take this knowledge and go into any studio and work. I run the program like a regular studio session. It just wouldn't be real if it were any other way.

How did you get involved with the Boys & Girls Club?

I've known program director Rick Dupree for years; he knows me from my family. He knows I'm in music, so he asked me to come in and check out the studio. He wanted me to come in and tell him if they had the right equipment. I came in and liked what I saw. My involvement was discussed, and I said, "Okay, but I don't do something unless it's full bore." I said I'd get involved, but it had to be done right. I told them what my stipulations would be, what type of freedom I would need, and how long it would take. It was obvious they were making an effort to have a serious studio. For me, because they were making that effort, it was worth it—to get it to the next level.

I've always seen the Boys & Girls Clubs as basketball spots, places that generate great basketball players. I see this as an opportunity to build a music program with that same mentality. So in 10 or 15 years, people will know artists who came out of here. I want this to be more than just a state-of-the-art music facility; I want to produce real talent out of here. I want it to inspire kids to move on. I'd like to see it get to the point where it sustains itself. I want to start bringing in different producers to teach so the kids can see different styles, like Vitamin D, Erik Blood, and Jake One. I want to bring Thaddeus Turner in to teach guitar.

What is the status of the studio now?

I've taken it from a GarageBand studio to a ProTools studio. And I'm now implementing Ableton and other things. We need better mics, better drum mics. I'd like to be able to have a real drum set in here, and be able to record it correctly. Same thing with guitar. Microphones are one of the things that this benefit is working toward. I'd like to be able to record choirs. I'd really like to get adequate equipment so that when the kids walk out of here, they're industry-ready. I want them to be able to go into Bad Animals and be able to know what's up. I want them to have working knowledge. I'm not helping them if I'm not giving them that.

There's a basketball court right next to the studio. And ping-pong and foosball. Are you worried about kids running and jumping around on the basketball court and then coming in here and breaking things?

This is the urban community. Where I grew up, the studio was in the basement of your house, with your mom upstairs and commotion going on. I did a compilation a few years ago in the projects with Vitamin D, Boom Bap, and Jason Black. Several people came in and recorded in my bathroom, and all throughout the house was yelling and screaming and life. I see this as like that.

That's cool that they get to watch actual sessions with you.

I think so. I try to keep it to three kids a class. One will engineer, one will control the board, and one will do their song. Then they rotate. So everyone's learning everything at the same time. Most kids just want to rap, but I'll set it up so that in order for them to get their turn on the mic, they'll have to engineer the other person's session first. And then that kid will do the same for them. It gives them incentive to do it right and pay attention. I teach them little by little.

Where did you learn?

My family. My first studio session was when I was 12 years old and I recorded a Zimbabwean album with traditional marimbas. I was assisting someone. Then I just started going into studios. There was Let's Do It Productions. The Ezelle family had a studio and were very instrumental in the recording community. We all went there and recorded. He would let us come in at midnight and be the last session of the day. I'd put the key under the mat when we were finished.

This area has gone through so much change.

This was the projects before. It's good change. I want to show the kids that this studio is worth it. Because it's not the norm. It's something special and different going on here with this Boys & Girls Club studio. Some people have gone their whole lives and not gotten to record in a place as nice as this.

You got Sir Mix-A-Lot on the CD!

Yes. He's a Boys & Girls Club guy. Boys & Girls Club gave him a lot of support back in the day. I remember sneaking into Mix-A-Lot parties when I was 8 to 10 years old.

This is a good thing you've got going here.

It feels good to be able to make a difference in someone's life. Some kids come in thinking they're a Blood, from the Central to the South End, with beef. They want to rap some things that are pretty bad ideas. I can say to them that I think it's a bad idea and they will respect it. One kid has it tough, he was homeless, didn't know where he was going to get his next meal, and he loves to rap. I've heard he's kind of dangerous and what not. But when he comes in here, he's straight and he listens. We were trying to put him in a position where he can better his life. Unfortunately, at this point, it's not a happy ending. We didn't have the resources to keep helping him. We had him checked into a shelter, but after a while his time there ran out. So we've lost him, for now. I have about six of his songs on the computer here, and they're good, and I want to keep working with him, and keep helping him, but we need some resources. He's still out there. Hopefully, we can raise these funds and I can get him back in here.

Where do you see this program in a couple years.

I'd like to get it to the point where there's a waiting list. It's packed. And kids are funneling in here from all over, and it gets so out of hand, with so much good stuff happening, that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has to say, "Okay, we need to put one of these in Mercer Island, one in the Central District, there need to be more of these programs. What do we need to do to make that happen?" I want to get it to the point where they have to open up other music programs like this. And then it will feed on itself, kids who were part of the program will be teaching it. It will take some time. I've seen several music programs come and go in the black community. So I'm willing to put the time in and see it through, because I believe it's a good thing. This community, and the people and the music that comes out of it, are worth it. There's a process to growing a tree before it can bear fruit.

The For the Love of Music release show is Tues Dec 21 at Neumos. With Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, Champagne Champagne, Mash Hall, Macklemore, Mad Rad, and more.

This story has been updated since its original publication.