In the first part of our series about PAA’s Community Hip-Hop Camp at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), we learned about how youth participants learned about DJing and writing graffiti. Breaking, MCing, and producing beats were also covered in the two- day intensive workshop.
Christian Howard, also known as “Flow,” broke it down into easy steps for the dance portion of the camp and kids were moving in no time. They learned top rocks and worked on smooth transitions and eventually baby freezes. Clean footwork was emphasized. When Flow called for a cipher (a circle where one person at a time freestyle dances), there was a sudden epidemic of shyness but that didn’t last long! Clearly the most physical of the elements covered during camp, breaking provided a stimulating outlet for the campers as they learned the corkscrew, floor sweep, and several other steps that their instructor weaved into a sequence. Working with Flow, a former PAA student and current captain of the Kent State University Dance Club, the kids were supported and reassured throughout the classes. The Cleveland Foundation Lobby served as the venue for these sessions and each group had a small audience as Museum patrons passed through and paused to take it all in.
When it was time for MCing (writing rhymes and rapping), Stephen Phillips, known as Kennedy Blaq, started by playing beats for the groups, then each student compiled a list of words or feelings that came to mind while hearing the beat. Based on a share-out of the brainstormed words, each group agreed on a theme. The older teens chose life as a topic to write about, and each of the other groups selected summer and personal interests, respectively.
The instructor then talked through instrumental beat options with each group. For example, he asked if a camper was thinking about a more upbeat feel and if they’d like to include drums or violins, etc. When it was time to compose rhymes to match their beat, the majority of the kids dove right in but for those who struggled to begin, they were encouraged to start with writing relevant words then finding a rhyming word. By the second day, everyone had enough written that they could share their ideas, particularly the oldest group. The teens were writing very quickly and some had a whole page of rhymes! This group participated in a cipher where they were given a topic and each person freestyle-rhymed then passed the mic to the next person.
During beatmaking in the afternoon, each group went upstairs to the Cahoon Lounge where they first visited the Orchestrians in the gallery. Built by Mark Mothersbaugh, these instruments are comprised of found objects and are programmed using Arduinos and run on a loop. The sounds projected by the instrumental sculptures are essentially a series of beats or rhythms. Campers viewed some Rhythm Roulette clips to understand how beats are made. Sampling pre-existing sounds then integrating rhythms from additional instruments, producers sample disparate sounds that are pieced together in a cohesive and dynamic way, creating beats. You could sense the synapses sparking as the teens watched videos of producers tasked with developing beats from three random records, a laptop, a mixer, and a keyboard. It was televised inspiration. iPads outfitted with Garage Band allowed each participant to experiment with layering sounds and Kennedy Blaq was there to guide each person along as they investigated the medium.
After the music and movement sessions, the kids dedicated the majority of each afternoon to hands-on art. Read about it in our next installment of MOCA Camp Remix.