Art Starts/School of Rap students work on their upcoming release: Visionists
In a basement studio at the corner of Oakwood and Amherst, a small group of hip-hop hopefuls has been meeting for the past ten weeks. Under the tutelage of urban music veteran Dan-e-o (best known, perhaps, for his 1995 single, “Dear Hip Hop”), these emerging rappers have literally learnt it all; from rhyming to freestyling, to writing, recording and producing their own tracks—Dan-e-o’s students aren’t playing pretend. And on Sunday, May 31, they’re hosting a block party—a real block party—to celebrate the release of their new album, Visionists.
“We’re taking it right back to where hip-hop started,” says Dan-e-o. “We’re taking hip-hop back to its roots—back to an outdoor party.” Although School of Rap—one of Art Starts’ not-for-profit community initiatives—has been up and running for several years, Dan-e-o describes this year’s cohort as “more diverse than ever.” Partnering with Montage Support Services, School of Rap has, for the first time, been able to accommodate several individuals living with disabilities.
“To be honest with you,” says Dan-e-o, “there were challenges. I didn’t know that [these two students] had cerebral palsy until I met them. I was nervous off the top—we just wanted everyone to feel included: we wanted the students with disabilities to feel included and the students without [disabilities] to feel included.”
But Dan-e-o and his students worked it out. According to Rea McNamara, Art Starts’ School of Rap Coordinator (and Eye Weekly fashion columnist), all it took was a little extra support. “We weren’t creating programming solely for the disabled,” she says. “We offered our regular sessions and provided extra support. [School of Rap] has always been intergenerational: some students are as young as ten or eleven, and some have been in their forties. So this was almost the next step—doing programming that’s fully integrated and continuing to use hip-hop as a vehicle for social change and expression.”
And on Sunday May 31, you’ll get to see this vehicle (so to speak—of course) in motion. At 504 Oakwood Avenue, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., School of Rap’s Visionist Crew will be performing alongside local breakdancers Lady Noyz’ Oakwood Library B-Girls Crew. With Visionists CDs selling for $5 and free food and (non-alcoholic) drink, School of Rap’s new-school take on an old-school party is something you won’t want to miss.
Photos courtesy of School of Rap/Rea McNamara.