The beat goes on

By David Barker

Hip-hop event gets back to basics

Solutions for socio-economic problems are typically addressed at symposiums where speakers use PowerPoint presentations, not turntables. But this weekend, the Lansing Hip Hop Fest will use facets of hip- hop culture — including graffiti art, spoken word, dance and music — to explore some of these heady themes.

The three-day festival — which has been pared down from a weeklong event — is in its fourth year and held outdoors for the first time this year. Event coordinator Adam Williams said he expects about 500 people per day to participate in the various workshops, contests and concerts.

Connecting the themes of social justice, education and peace to hip hop is the way for the messages to get through to the public, said Michigan State University Professor David Kirkland, who, along with being part of the festival’s leadership committee, also works at MSU´s Center for Applied Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Arts and Humanities.

“I believe we can learn as much from Tupac as we can from Shakespeare,” Kirkland said.

As Kirkland sees it, hip hop is way to engage with the community using a popular medium. It is not that community is disengaged, Kirkland said, but that messages about education and social justice are not being packaged correctly.

“Hip hop is one of the most important cultural phenomenons since the Civil Rights movement,” he said. “(President Barack) Obama self-identified as the first ‘hip-hop president.’ If we don’t begin to think about hip hop as a way to engage this generation, we lose an opportunity to realize who we can become as well as find out who and where we are.”

Ozay Moore, director of All of the Above Hip Hop Academy, said even if participants don’t come for the thematic aspects, the festival still gives people a chance to come together and see the role of hip hop in Lansing.

“There is talent (in Lansing),” Moore said. “It’s just unfortunate there is not more unity.”

As the keynote attraction for Saturday’s education theme, Moore said part of what he wants to impart to festival attendees is an alternative to the themes found in mainstream hip hop.

“Hip hop is not good or bad,” Moore said. “It’s just a reflection of the people who make it. In mainstream hip hop right now, it isn’t popular to take responsibility in the community and use hip hop for something that that isn’t monetary gain. It’s big business to regurgitate the same thing because that makes money. What we want to do is try and steer the culture toward something more positive.”

The 4th Annual Lansing Hip Hop Fest is billed as a forward-looking event. The goal is for participants to take the lessons and knowledge gained during the weekend and carry them out into the world. Even so, the main point, Angela Waters Austin said, is to get back to hip hop’s roots. Austin is the director of the festival’s parent organization, One Love Global.

“From the beginning, hip hop was about bringing together a community,” Austin said. “The purpose of it was peace and anti-violence. We’ve continued with those themes, and now we promote leadership and create spaces to showcase talent and build networks. We want to highlight the hidden, untapped gifts and abilities that the community might not normally engage with.”

Kirkland said the festival is simply the beginning, a jumping-off point off for everything that comes after.

“It’s a seed that we’re planting,” Kirkland said. “If nurtured and cultivated, it will grow. As it grows it will seed new ground. Those new seeds will blossom into a garden and that garden will become a forest.”

Lansing Hip Hop Fest 2013
May 17-19
4 p.m.–9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. -9 p.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday
3222 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lansing