Edgewood Village youth proudly showing off their graffiti art they created for the community.
Photo courtesy of AOTA
By Deborah M. Walker
Hip hop heroes some may call them. The All of the Above (AOTA) instructors teach the basic understanding of hip hop and spread its message to those who may otherwise not know what it is about. Raphael ‘Rafa’El’ Downes, an instructor for AOTA who teaches the class at the Oak Park YMCA in Lansing, says AOTA is about spreading cultural awareness to strengthen the community.
“AOTA was started to teach the youth the 5 basic elements of hip hop;emceeing, djing, bboying, graffiti art and most importantly knowledge. The knowledge of the history and culture, understanding where it came from and showing people that hip hop can be used in a positive way to impact communities,” says Downes.
Downes says there are many misconceptions surrounding hip hop. AOTA participants learn the truth about hip hop and walk away with a different understanding of the culture.
“Students learn what hip hop is and what it is not,” said Downes. “They learn where it comes from. They learn that there is actually a culture to this.”
Downes says AOTA is a “creative collective,” started by a group of individuals who saw hip hop as a way to enhance the community instead of tearing it apart.
“Ideally we’re a community group that tried to impact the community through hip hop,” said Downes.
AOTA got its start from founder Tyson Phumphrey aka “Ozay Moore.” Moore got his start working with Detroit Public Schools in 2008 through a company called the Learning Express. Moore wrote and performed songs that mixed education and entertainment with such themes as reading comprehension, bike safety, drug awareness and other topics important to today’s youth.
In 2010, Moore moved his act to Lansing where he started the organization All of the Above teaching the basic elements of hip hop; emceeing, beat making, breaking also known as bboying and graffiti art.
Breaking 101 teaches the techniques, history, mental and physical conditioning of break dancing. Those in Beat Making 101 learn how to use specialized computer software to make beats. Participants in the beat making class learn the history of beat making while working towards a collaborative project with musicians and vocalists.
In addition, Emceeing 101 develops creative writing skills and enhances communication while Graffiti Art 101 gives those in a class a hands on opportunity to learn how to blend letters, apply color theory and much more.
According to Downes his goal is to get participants to look at the world around them and translate it into their craft in a positive way. Hip hop is the opposite of rap music. Downes says there is a major difference between Hip hop and rap. Rap glorifies violence and promotes negativity and the destruction of community while hip hop unifies and brings people together.
“Hip hop and rap is different in the ways that rap is something that people do. Anybody can rap. Anybody can grab a microphone and rap. Hip hop is an actual culture. It’s more than what people do, it’s the way we live,” said Downes.
“Normally what you see glorified on the radio and TV is everything that is not hip hop. Guns, drugs, sex, women, booze, partying and violence it really promotes the opposite of what the hip hop agenda is,” states Downes.
According to Downes hip hop is the way people dress and carry themselves. It is the ideas they possess and the values those in the hip hop community hold dear.
“Hip hop is all about community. It’s about educating and empowering youth. It’s about trying to uplift a generation. Hip hop was born in the South Bronx, New York so it came from impoverished areas and gave kids that didn’t have anything something to do,” said Downes.
Hip hop has been changing lives since its onset says Downes. One example of this was with the story of Kevin Donovan aka “Afrika Bambaataa,” who was the leader of a gang in New York the Black Spades. According to Downes, instead of terrorizing the streets Donovan used his influence to become a part of the hip hop scene and turned his music into a powerful force that made a positive difference in the community.
In addition to being a positive movement Downes says AOTA gives youngsters a chance to have a voice. Downes says a lot of AOTA participants are coming from situations where they have no positive outlet while others in the program are there to pursue a career.
“They don’t have someone that’s encouraging them to say hey that’s great you should do that or maybe you should try it like this,” said Downes. “Some of them are living out their dreams. A lot of them want to be recording artists.”
This was the case for Akilah Jenkins-Brown who joined AOTA five months ago. Jenkins-Brown, 16, says AOTA taught her how to be herself and become more sociable and relaxed around people.
“I like it a lot,” said Jenkins-Brown. “At first when I first meet a person I am shy. It [AOTA] taught me how come out of my shell.”
AOTA is a lot of fun says Jenkins-Brown. Jenkins-Brown says she is trying a lot of new activities and doing new things.
Downes says AOTA is geared around participants having a good time. Summer participants get to record an original song. This gives them an opportunity to express themselves and showcase their talents. Students get to record a short album, so the incentive is more than just a song, they get a full project recorded and produced for free. They also prepare them for live performances and help promote them and book events for them.
“We bring in all the equipment and they record their own projects here through AOTA. We mix it down, we produce it for them,” said Downes. “We have in house producers and the kids learn to produce through the class we collaborate. So it gives them a chance to have a platform to shine to really show the world what they can do and what they’re about.”
Downes is in his second year at AOTA and says that although he does not think hip hop in itself can stop violence altogether, hip hop can be used as a tool to cut down on crime.
“I don’t think that hip hop in itself would be able to curb the violence all together, but I think it could definitely be a good deterrent. It could be something that could prevent a lot.”
Certain areas in the community are more prone to violence says Downes. According to Downes these areas are more open to rap music.Hip hop could be influential in sending a non-violent message and that could dampen the negative impact of rap music claims Downes.
“They have a piece of the hip hop culture but they don’t have the full truth behind where it comes from,” said Downes. “So they like the beats, they like the moves, they like rapping so I think that it could definitely be a tool used to empower people to put down the guns.”
Downes says to keep going and to follow ambitions. As a young artist Downes was discouraged but said he never gave up.
“Go for what you know. Do what you want to do,” said Downes.
“At AOTA we are a strong advocate of kids believing in their dreams and doing what they want to do,” said Downes.
According to Downes often times when adolescents enter middle school and high school they are told to follow a particular career path based on family status, economics or academic performance. Downes says students are guided towards career-path schools but this may not be their passion in life.
“I think a lot of kids get warehoused in certain places because they gave up on what they originally wanted to do and they didn’t realize that there are so many opportunities for kids,” said Downes.
Hip hop has meant so many different things for Downes who says through it he has found mentors, coping skills and a way to face problems.
“Hip hop has provided me a family. That wasn’t something I really had at home,” said Downes. “When I got into hip hop that was something that opened up new doors to meet new people that had the same interest as me and we became family.”
Downes says that being there for each other is what hip hop and AOTA is about.
“Hip hop is love,” said Downes.
To find out more information on how you can get involved contact Downes at [email protected] or facebook.com/rafaeldelaghett0 (the last character is a zero).
This was printed in the October 5, 2014 – October 18, 2014 edition