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Bloomington-Normal Youth Learn To Understand Complex Emotions Through Hip-Hop

 BCAI students in the recording studio for the making of "Get Right."
BCAI School of Arts
BCAI students in the recording studio for the making of "Get Right."

Youth in Bloomington-Normal are getting an opportunity to understand and process complex emotions through the creation of hip-hop music.

One way to understand the spirit of this project is to go back to the late director of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Tina Salamone was fond of saying “when one knows what it’s like to create, they are less likely to destroy.”

“That is extremely profound and extremely true,” said Angelique Racki, Executive Director of the Bloomington-based BCAI Cultural Arts & Humanities, located across the street from the BCPA. Racki said the school follows the same ethos Salamone promoted.

“She’s the reason we have our space here in the Creativity Center. She definitely believed in us and trusted us in that is what we do, and we had a very aligned vision for this community,” said Racki.

One of BCAI’s projects immerses mostly middle school and high school age kids in the creation of hip-hop music.

“And then venturing into seeing where they contribute to this culture,” said Racki. “Once you feel you’re actually contributing, it’s a whole new feeling of confidence … of movement … you have this new audacity of movement.”

Dawson Patty-G'Sell is a student at Normal Community High School and one of the students who participated in this song titled “Get Right.” He amplified Salamone’s mantra that positive things can come from focused energy.

“I feel like with all the energy I had, I wouldn’t be able to do anything with that,” said Patty-G’Sell. “If I never did this, I probably would have been in the same place I ever had been and not really knowing what to do.

Racki said the song project exposes students to different facets of hip-hop: Emcee, DJ, language, entrepreneurialism, and knowledge, and that the six-week sessions are designed to increase students’ awareness of their place and value within the culture they love, and present opportunities to use that value to transform their world. Her Chicago collaborator added hip-hop culture is more than just music.

“It’s fashion. It’s the way you walk, the way you talk. It’s a culture in itself. You see hip-hop in a lot of different things. Movies, pop culture, things of that nature. And it doesn’t have a race to it,” said Daniel “D.Son” Moore, founder of The Stay Relentless Life & Hip Hop Initiative in Chicago and one of seven central Illinois and Chicago based artists to mentor the kids on the project. His school has a similar mission to BCAI. Moore said he and Racki have been aware of each other for a while and when the opportunity to collaborate on this project presented itself …

“We both kind of just jumped on it. Because I was in the middle of finalizing my nonprofit. And since then, we’ve been working hard for the kids out there in Bloomington, and hopefully do something for the kids in Chicago as well.”

Patty-G'Sell was one of eight Bloomington-Normal youth who contributed to the song. Racki said she and the mentors prompted students to tap into their life experiences when creating lyrics.

“Things you want to say or wish you could say or could have said to teachers, other adults, or parents. What do you wish adults knew? And put them into lyrics, which teaches them how powerful art can be as an expression platform,” said Racki.

Patty-G’Sell took that nudge to express frustration at being misunderstood.

“I just knew that a lot of adults … whenever I wouldn’t talk, they would say I’m trying to not talk to get attention, or I’m just not talking because I’m hiding a secret. When they asked for the prompt, that’s what I wanted to tell them."

I might be there
But you’d never notice
Got a lot to say
But I’m soft spoken

- Dawson Patty-G’Sell from the song “Get Right”

The students also contributed to the instrumental music. Racki said she worked with Bloomington engineer and producer Oliver Johnson, aka Ollie Bravo, to create the music. She said he queried all eight students for what they wanted the track to sound like.

“And he and his genius were able to take all eight different complete sounds and put it in one instrumental,” said Racki. “So, you get gamer, Korean heavy metal, hip-hop, emo, rap … a whole bunch of different genres in one track.”

It’s a lot of creating and collaborating. For Racki, it’s personal and goes back to Tina Salamone’s mantra

“When one knows what it’s like to create, they are less likely to destroy,” she said.

Racki’s program attracts young people who feel misunderstood. Those whose personality and temperament she said can color outside the lines of societal cookie-cutter expectations. She said many of these kids need to hear from an adult that they are understood.

“So you feel safe enough to have access to these parts of you. And in that, you no longer feel you need to destroy anything because you feel you actually belong to something. Once you feel like that, the survival mode that kicks in is much less likely to happen,” said Racki.

Those words are music to the ears of Patty- G’Sell.

“Most of the stuff that happens publicly that is hard to get through … I do get help here. And basically, everything I go through and being able to turn all that emotion into creativity and … greatness,” said Patty-G’Sell.

You can listen to the song “Get Right” in its entirety on Spotify and Bandcamp. You can download it from iTunes and Google Play.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.
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