Images via the Hip Hop Transformation
It’s a widely accepted notion that mainstream hip-hop artists, as well as their fans, have lowered the bar for what’s considered talent, or entertainment. A group of high schoolers from Cambridge, however, working with the Hip Hop Transformation program at the Cambridge Community Center, re-set the bar in my eyes, respecting the art form as imagined by old-schoolers of the Golden Era, all while setting themselves apart from a dated sound and modern cliches.
On my recent visit with the program, which has its end-of-season showcase Thursday night at The Bridge Sound & Stage studio, we started with a 30-minute talk and Q&A session with students. From there, youth counselor Brandon Lewis (aka Lotus) led a group of us to the recording studio in the facility’s basement, located next to the think tank room where kids are encouraged to express their “lyrical genius.” It’s here that Lewis, 18, played me a sampling of tracks written by students and produced by local beatmakers.
Lewis, who mixed the songs himself, graduated from being a student last year to becoming the program’s engineer. In watching him in action, it’s clear he has impressive chemistry with other youth, as well as a significant wealth of technical knowledge picked up from producer-mentors such as Lightfoot and Arcitype, both of who kicked in beats for the project, and from Aisling Peartree and Letia LaRok, who also schooled the up-and-comers all summer.
I had to write about this and spread the word, as the experience of visiting with Hip Hop Transformation, and specifically hearing the tracks, was among my favorite music moments in a while. Not only were their songs catchy, smart, and age-appropriate, but the students were supportive of each other, and knew all of one another’s lyrics. They also have something to show for it. The program’s third annual collaboration album, Say No Mas, is almost finished, and will be ready for consumption before school starts back up. This program isn’t just a victory for the folks who run it, but for hip-hop as well. This is how it should be done.