HomeMusicAlphabet Rockers hip-hop group evokes youngsters to create change : NPR

Alphabet Rockers hip-hop group evokes youngsters to create change : NPR


Hip-hop collective Alphabet Rockers makes music for and with youngsters.

Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers


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Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers


Hip-hop collective Alphabet Rockers makes music for and with youngsters.

Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers

When Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd based the efficiency collective Alphabet Rockers, the longtime mates needed to encourage kids to make social change. Hip hop appeared the proper medium.

“Whenever you have a look at hip hop, it is an invite to be precisely who you might be,” mentioned McGaw. “There’s additionally quite a lot of wordplay, so it is completely a root of enjoyable dialog, expression, bravado, listening, all this stuff that lecturers try to create.”

However Shepherd mentioned they rapidly realized one thing was lacking. “What was driving into us is that we needed to do it with — versus for — youngsters,” he mentioned.

So that they added three of them: Kali de Jesus, Tommy Shepherd III and Maya Fleming, all now youngsters. It labored. The Oakland, California-based collective went on to earn two Grammy Award nominations within the Greatest Kids’s Music Album class for his or her infectiously groovy and sensible songs that attraction to youngsters and adults alike.

Now they’ve dropped a brand new album, “The Motion,” which showcases upbeat tracks about restorative justice, Juneteenth, and the way to create neighborhood by having every others’ backs.

“Each time they launch a brand new video or tune, we play it for our employees, as a result of it is so uplifting,” mentioned Christy Estrovitz, youth companies supervisor for the San Francisco Public Library, which has hosted the Rockers many instances over the previous decade. “They’ve intergenerational attraction.”

‘The Motion’ album cowl

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Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers


‘The Motion’ album cowl

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On a current Wednesday afternoon after college, the collective was of their Oakland studio, and the youngsters have been throwing verses forwards and backwards.

“I am simply loving the riffing,” mentioned 13-year-old Rockers’ member Maya. She joined the group after her dance trainer prompt she test it out. Like all three youngsters, she sings on — and wrote songs for — the brand new album. “Simply doing no matter involves thoughts that goes with the music.”

Her colleague Tommy III, 14, is the son of Shepherd and has been across the group his whole life; you may see him in early Rockers movies when he was a toddler. He mentioned he joined the group in kindergarten as a result of it felt proper.

“It wasn’t like I used to be like robotically within the group simply because he was my dad,” Tommy III mentioned.

Kali, 13, joined the band in kindergarten, too; he and Tommy III are greatest mates. “Dang! I’ve identified him longer than half my life!” Kali mentioned.

The 2 boys take pleasure in capturing hoops and goofing off outdoors the studio throughout breaks. However they’ve a severe facet; the songs they contributed to the brand new album take an unflinching have a look at programs of oppression.

“I need to encourage youngsters to be no matter they need to be on this planet with out having to consider, ‘I do not wanna be like a lawyer as a result of I really feel like that is just for white individuals,’ or one thing like that,” mentioned Tommy III of his music, “The Change Up.”

“My music, ‘Video games,’ is about the identical factor,” mentioned Kali. “It targets all people. It is actually displaying up the programs that the federal government is putting on individuals in on a regular basis life for what they’re.”

The group chats throughout a rehearsal at their Oakland studio

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The group chats throughout a rehearsal at their Oakland studio

Chloe Veltman/NPR/Chloe Veltman/NPR

The third youth member of the group, Maya, mentioned she initially noticed herself solely as a dancer, however being a part of the collective helped her to develop different creative abilities. Lately, she carried out her music “Our Flip,” about dealing with the chaos of life below COVID-19, through the Rockers’ current set at a block celebration thrown by the Smithsonian Museum of African-American Historical past and Tradition in Washington, D.C.

“The message that they make the most of is one that’s resonant inside the museum,” mentioned Leslie Walker, who oversees social justice and scholarly applications there. “How they outline hip hop as freedom of tradition, freedom of expression, and utilizing it as a method for younger individuals to talk about social points and social justice.”

The Rockers carry out all around the nation, however once they’re residence within the Bay Space, they hold busy with concert events and social justice-focused workshops for teenagers in libraries and faculties.

The San Francisco Public Library’s Estrovitz mentioned the teenage members are particularly inspiring to her younger patrons.

“What’s actually cool [is] previously few years, they’ve actually seen their youth performers [become] ambassadors and function fashions,” Estrovitz mentioned. “So now I am seeing youthful kids trying up, not simply at Tommy and Kaitlin, however on the youth.”

The collective is hoping “The Motion” will web them a 3rd Grammy nomination this yr within the Greatest Kids’s Music Album class — this time, perhaps it would even be a win.

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