With the fourth annual Hip Hop in the Park just a week away – Aug. 13 starting at noon in People’s Park – the young students in Darren “Scooter” Spencer’s The Art of Hip Hop course at D.A.S.H. Center for the Performing Arts are busy pulling together last minute details before the big day. This is their event – under guidance from Scooter and D.A.S.H. Center founder Candi Hall, the students do all the leg work to put the event on and to see that it runs without a hitch on the day of. From acquiring sponsors and food and retail vendors to managing the stage and taking care of the performers, the youth create and produce the entire event. They’ll also perform at the festival as AOHH (the class acronym).
Helping to organize Hip Hop in the Park is just one aspect of The Art of Hip Hop course. Scooter teaches the elements of Hip Hop starting with its history then moving on to writing, graffiti, dancing and how to be a DJ and MC.
Each student is given an MC name once they become part of the class family: Rodney “Dre Stylez” Taylor, Lamont “Markell” Spencer, Nashae “The 1st Lady of AOHH” Hester and William “Doc Flow” Hassertt are collectively (and affectionately) known as The Art of Hip Hop kids.
Scooter’s students get lots of time to show their skills onstage as well at schools and events all over the city. They performed on the Ethnic Fest youth stage on both days of the event last weekend.
“That was a beautiful thing for us because it gives us a chance to showcase the kids and what they do, to wrangle more kids and to get Hip Hop in the Park out there,” Scooter said.
Every Friday night the students host an open mic at D.A.S.H. Center called The Corner from 9-11:30 p.m.
“It’s an open stage. You can talk about your day, dance…whatever it is you do, come here,” Scooter said. It’s a drug-free space and adults are present to enforce the rules.
Each student is required to keep his or her grades up and stay out of trouble if they are to have the privilege of taking part in all the learning opportunities at the D.A.S.H. Center. And if they fuss during class or act up, Scooter orders them to do push-ups. He teaches them how to dress appropriately to reflect a professional attitude and, in general, how to properly present themselves as artists in a career field that is very difficult, but not impossible, to succeed in. He teaches them how to think outside the box and outside of their own neighborhood and city.
Scooter said some kids don’t make it through the first few weeks of class.
“Not everybody who takes the class is an MC,” he said. “They think they want to be an MC and an artist until they find out they have to work. I make them work.”
The type of Hip Hop music the students learn, create and perform is for all audiences, Scooter explained.
“There are a lot of kids who want to say what they know. They want to rap about drugs and ’hos and that’s cool, but that’s not what we teach. Here your rhymes got to be clean. I’m not saying there’s not a place for that in the music industry, but make it there and then you can govern what you write about. But here, your music has to be clean.”
The class curriculum comes from Scooter’s own experiences, knowledge and from being a hardcore fan of Hip Hop from its beginnings. The catalyst for creating his course on Hip Hop history, music and culture came upon the cancellation of rapper E-40’s concert at the Pantages Theater in 2009 when it was deemed too violent by local law enforcement. During community meetings held at the Broadway Center following the controversial move to cancel the show, Scooter said he grew frustrated at the lack of education going on during the meetings concerning the cultural and artistic significance of Hip Hop.
“Finally I said, ‘why are you all acting like Hip Hop is that animal in the hills coming down to eat your kids and sheep?’ It is a culture and we need to teach this culture for our kids. They’re so confused nowadays over what the culture of Hip Hop really is. They think it’s about the big bucks, rims and shiny cars and being a superthug. They don’t understand that it’s about so much more than that.”
This is Scooter’s first year to take on The Art of Hip Hop as his fulltime job. He said so far, his dream is flourishing nicely. “I didn’t expect it to stick. I wanted it to stick, but when you have a dream, you don’t always expect to see that dream grow. Now that it’s blossoming, it’s gotta work because this is what I love doing.”
Scooter started the four-year course at the center four years ago, and Dre Stylez is the first “graduate” this year. His three classmates are new to The Art of Hip Hop, with less than a year in the program. Dre doesn’t plan on leaving the class and moving on like graduates usually do. Instead he’s continuing his education in music at the center and will be helping Scooter teach and mentor new students that enroll in the course.
This being Dre’s fourth year, his culminating project is to record and produce his own album himself. Scooter will help with getting it distributed and played on the radio.
“This is Dre’s year,” Scooter said.
The title of the album will be “The Epitome of Stylez.” Dre sings, writes, raps and dances. Scooter said he’s excited to see where his first graduating student will take his talents and knowledge gained from completing the entire Art of Hip Hop course.
“Having an understanding of the history and culture in his mind about Hip Hop, I’m really excited to see next year what happens with Dre and where he’s going with this.”
Dre said he’s up for the challenges and rewards of his efforts to succeed in music. “I’m excited about the whole process in general. Being here for four years and doing Hip Hop in the Park for the last three years, it’s just been great.”
This year Dre Stylez is the headlining performer at Hip Hop in the Park. For his performances, he will dance (in two different styles) and showcase his songs such as “Better U,” written for A Better U fitness group. Doc Flow’s mom, Amy TieMeyer, owns A Better U and leads workouts for the Art of Hip Hop kids as part of their learning to stay in shape in order to be strong performers.
“That song is along the lines of being a ‘healthy’ song that gets the crowd moving,” Dre said.
He’ll also perform his harmonizing version of Jay Z’s “Run This Town” called “Run This,” and for his closing number, he’ll rap and sing his song “Ever Since.”
Tasking the students with taking leadership roles in organizing a major outdoor music festival like Hip Hop in the Park teaches them skills they’ll use as they advance in their learning to be successful in the music industry – if that’s what they choose to do – and in life in general. “Markell” Spencer described his duties during Hip Hop in the Park as “a mixture of performing and coordinating at the same time.” Not only will he be performing onstage, he’ll be responsible for many other things like making sure the performers are fed and comfortable and handling any last minute changes, which always happen during such big public events. The “1st Lady of AOHH” will be at his side as stage manager.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s better than a regular classroom because we get to go out and experience things.”
“We all have our jobs come the day of the show,” Markell said. “Putting on a show and keeping it together teaches us that you need to know business to be an artist. You can’t just know how to rhyme.
“We build on that quote Jay Z said: ‘I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man.’”
In the past, between 15 and 20 different acts performed at Hip Hop in the Park.
“This year we’ve decided to try and keep it down to 10 so that each artist has more time and we went with more quality – meaning those who have done a lot of performances – and we reached out to Seattle more than we normally do,” Scooter said.
The list of performers this year shows a big variety in what will be happening onstage. Some examples:
* The BreakLites – a Seattle-based duo; bluesy, boom-bap, Hip Hop, electro-pop beats, funk guitar and high-energy flow
* AOHH (Art of Hip Hop kids)
* MC Deandre “Kraff” Jones
* I.N.K. – trio from People’s Center
* D1 Experience – a live band (with D.A.S. H. founder Candi Hall)
* Reality Check – DASH Center’s Hip Hop youth dance team
* RCX – all-female performance dance team new to DASH Center
* Chieff Wayol – Seattle “socialpreneur” artist at Way of Life Entertainment
* Antonio Edwards – spoken word artist and former Tacoma poet laureate
* Josh Rizeberg – renowned poet and spoken word artist
Scooter and his students expressed disappointment that they had to cancel a previously planned parade through Hilltop before the start of Hip Hop in the Park. Titled “Hilltopia: A Parade for Peace,” the purpose of the parade was to celebrate the community but it got cut short when the city wanted to charge $10,000 for security, Scooter explained.
“But we are going to work to have the parade next year,” he said.
Donations to the cause will be gratefully accepted during Hip Hop in the Park, or send to: D.A.S.H Center, 1504 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, WA 98405.
Even without the parade, there will be a lot going on in the park. In addition to nonstop performers on the main stage, Foster Enterprises is partnering with Hip Hop in the Park this year and will have their own stage featuring the Summer Youth Explosion community talk and awards.
A Better U will host a fitness challenge and jump rope contest for the girls and an abs challenge for the boys (lay on your back and lift your legs as many times as you can). Gift cards will go to the winners.
Also new this year, the Tempest Lounge, across the street from People’s Park, has offered to have a beer garden.
A returning favorite will be the Freestyle MC Battle with $100 and a trophy as the top prize. Contestants can register for the battle at the information booth between noon and 1 p.m.
“For me, this is really a family fun event,” Scooter said. “You’ve really got to come out and see these kids. I’m a proud parent all over again when I see my whole class up there doing their thing and showcasing their talents. That touches me. Come see what these kids can do.”
New students are always welcome to sign up for The Art of Hip Hop. To learn more, call Scooter at (609) 442-4151 or e-mail email@example.com. To learn more about all the classes at D.A.S.H. Center in dancing, acting, singing, music and more, visit www.thedashcenter.org.