by Toki Wright
Imagine being that kid walking into a Hip-Hop show or venue and having hundreds of people look at you like you shouldn’t be there, based on the color of your skin.
AM Thursday August 12th, 2004. Can't sleep.
“All human endeavor is inspired by the effort to answer the questions:
Where do we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here?”
“The issue then becomes what philosophy, religion, or belief system can
provide clear answers to those questions. Though an entire nation may have been
reduced to ashes by war, its people’s future will remain bright as long
as a positive philosophy still pulses in their hearts.”
Daisaku Ikeda and Haruo Suda from The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra
(Shakayamuni Buddah’s highest teaching)
This probably isn’t the way you expected to be introduced to the 3rd
Annual Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop. I feel that it’s important
to remember that beneath all the entertainment and excitement surrounding this
festival and conference, there’s an important obligation that young people
have across the globe to be catalysts for progress.
It was the fall of 1998 and I had just graduated from Patrick Henry High School
in North Minneapolis. I started attending classes at the University of Minnesota
in General College, including “Multicultural Relations,” taught
by LeRoy Gardner—father of Frank Sentwali from Edupoetic Enterbrainment.
I ran into a neatly dressed kid named Larry Lucio Jr., who I later realized
was the son of my Junior High School principal.
During a break from class one day, we went outside and I read him some of the
verses I had been working on. From this initial conversation we began to talk
about how Hip-Hop and multiculturalism were related.
I had just begun reaching out to the local music scene and had recently met
AD of The C.O.R.E. In this scene I noticed a distinct divide that existed between
the art and entertainment communities. The easiest thing to call it is segregation.
Imagine being a person who, as long as you could remember, was raised with Hip-Hop
music and influence. Imagine being that kid walking into a Hip-Hop show or venue
and having hundreds of people look at you like you shouldn’t be there,
based on the color of your skin. Or imagine feeling that your color, accent
or hairstyle was simply a novelty for another’s credibility. This was
my experience up until a point where Mr. Lucio and I knew that we had to create
a space where we fit in and were respected.
1998, we began doing shows under the name “Amplified Life” anywhere
that would let us set up a microphone. We felt the need to create a space for
Hip-Hoppers and poets of all walks of life to be listened to and respected.
We became curators of the “Encyclopedia of Hip-Hop” with Jamaica
and Desdamona at Intermedia Arts in 1999. Eventually we parted ways and began
doing shows at the Circle of Discipline in the boxing ring. Being graciously
accepted into the family at the COD we had a support system that helped and
continues to help us to this day.
We were able to learn the business aspect of Hip-Hop from the ground up. We
were there to set up, break down, take money and deal with all of the negative
politics that go along with the business. For two years we saw many underground
artists from across the scene and the country grace the ring, including Brother
Ali, Illogic, Oddjobs, Qwazaar, Subterraneous, and Heuiruspecs just to name
a few. But more importantly we were able to provide a space for youth from the
neighborhood to be able to get on the microphone for the first time—right
in the heart of South Minneapolis on Lake Street.
Larry and I had been discussing doing a large scale Hip-Hop event that included
all of Hip-Hop’s elements with a focus on multiculturalism. Around this
time we heard about a Hip-Hop event that went on in Cincinnati called “Scribble
Jam.” We took a chance and some wrong turns but eventually Nomi of Oddjobs,
Larry and I made the 20-hour trip south.
Returning home we said, “OK, we know that the performance aspect can work,
but how do we make sure that the event is ideologically in line with our initial
goals?” We had to make sure that we created space for dialogue.
Later that year we started drawing up plans for the “Amplified Life Hip-Hop
Celebration.” We drew up a budget and approached a few organizations that
turned us down even though we knew they had money for this programming. Some
even had the nerve to throw “Hip-Hop celebrations” of their own
after seeing and passing on our proposal.
Finally, we approached Dick Mammen who had been doing community work for years
in the city. I met him through volunteering over the years. Dick started a nonprofit
called YO! The Movement with two High School students that wanted to lower the
voting age on school board elections and open a teen center.
In January of the following year I was given a contracted part-time position
between running the Minneapolis Youth Council and coordinating a program called
EYS (Express YO Self) at YO!. The EYS Project provides young people with spaces
to perform throughout the year.
Three years later, we have grown as individuals and as a unit. We have gone
through our financial ups and downs to our current state of running on fumes.
In Amplified Life, we have gone from being kids in the crowd to being on stage
to running the show. I see the same cycle happening with FranzD of Illuminous
3 and Will of 3 Kings; black and Latino kids who didn’t feel a part of
the scene having self-definition.
So this year we have a big job: “Power in Numbers: The Vote.” We
have an obligation to our people to educate each other politically. In 2000
I was trying to motivate people to take political action and they acted like
I was in COINTELPRO or something. Now everybody sees the ugly shape that this
country is in and wants to get in the game in the 4th quarter. Imagine that.
At this year’s festival we hope to register 3,000 new voters and identify
20 new youth organizers. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and this
is the venue for people from the community to sit at the table.
This is the most important event in the history of Hip-Hop in this state, and
I am not saying that for selfish reasons. Only Hip-Hop is a movement broad and
powerful enough to bring together young and old, all religions, gay and straight,
and all nationalities. Ok…well maybe Hip-Hop and an alien invasion. ||
Ok so what do we do after the festival? Stay involved.
YO! The Movement: 612-874-9696 YoTheMovement.org
What's Up? Youth Info Line: 612-399-9999 WhatsUp.org
Walker Teen Programs: 612-375-7572 WalkerArt.org
The League of Pissed Off Voters: email@example.com, Indy
Subzero Collective: 612-827-9274
Freedom School/People's Institute
There were many people missing from the group shot that were not able to
make it. Nimco Ahmed from the League of Pissed Off Voters, Mastermind and Slim
of GOB, James Everett and Jerhnele McClain from Subzero Collective, and Sarah
Agaton-Howe of the Freedom School/Peoples