hip hop 4 change
Hip Hop 4 Change

Hip hop came from the streets of the Bronx and Harlem, and has arguably never lost its connection to the context in which it was born. Speaking authentically about life “on the streets” is still a priority of rap and hip hop artists. But some would argue that, as a culture, mainstream hip hop has lost its way – or, more properly speaking, has been co-opted by greedy industries looking to make a buck. Lots of mainstream rap artists may be talking about the streets, but their music is just as much conceived in a board room, in other words.

Hip Hop For Change aims to reclaim hip hop and use it as a force for social justice, and they’re keeping it true to the streets on a number of levels.

Hip hop culture connected with so many people around the globe because it was a way for members of marginalized communities to express themselves on their own terms. But once hip hop went global, the capitalists caught on and started twisting it to their own purposes.

“The mainstream music industry sells sexism, drug abuse, homophobia, materialism, and gang violence as if these problems represent the cornerstones of hip hop culture,” states the Hh4C mission statement. “

[But] Hip hop stems from the roots of artistic, creative, and militant demands for justice and the acceptance of diversity in all its forms. In this way, hip hop is what we as individuals want it to be.”

Hh4C works with some of the Bay Area’s best hip hop artists, like The Coup, Richie Cunning, and Pep Love of legendary hip hop collective Hieroglyphics. Through both promoting shows and grassroots activism, i.e. hitting the streets and doing some old-fashioned organizing, Hip Hop For Change is using hip hop culture to educate and empower Bay Area communities that are often pushed to the margins and forgotten.

I had the chance to chat with Hip Hop For Change founder and executive director Khafre James over email about why he thinks hip hop can be such a powerful force for change. Check out the Q&A after the jump.

Here are videos from The Coup, Richie Cunning, and Pep Love to give you a taste of the real hip hop coming out of the Bay Area today:

Khafre James is also a pretty badass rapper in his own right. Check out his track “The Hood Is Fucked Up” and be assured this dude knows what he’s talking about when it comes to hip hop and isn’t afraid to challenge the establishment.

MG: What is the mission of Hip Hop For Change?

KJ: The mission of Hh4C is to uses grassroots activism to educate people about socio-economic injustices and advocate solutions through hip hop culture. We raise funds for local causes that enrich marginalized and historically oppressed communities.

MG: When was it founded? By whom?

KJ: It was founded last April by myself. I brought on Devin Weaver to help me build this into a real thing, and we’ve been pushing hard ever since.

MG: So are you show promoters? Community organizers? Both?

KJ: You have to organize people to get a good turn out at a show, and when you’re talking about a show with a cause behind it, the line between promoting and community organizing blurs. Currently, every one who works at HH4C does this. Our grassroots team educates and promotes the events in the streets and Devin and I promote on the back end, through social media and poster-ing.

MG: Why did you choose the particular combination of activities y’all are involved in? In other words, what is your theory of change?

KJ: Our basic theory of change is that the public is educated through expression-based arts, whether they want to be or not. When the industry controls this voice, what our youth get to consume is the glorification of drug abuse, violence, homophobia, and misogyny. In addition, private prison corporations and the media groups controlling Hip Hop have overlapping ownership which creates incentive to promote behaviors in music that send our youth to jail.

Conversely, when local artists (that the music industry often won’t support) are allowed to tell the real narratives from the community, we get music talking about people’s personal stories, struggles, and aspirations. It’s in this setting that we see the full breadth of the educational potential for expressive arts like Hip Hop.

MG: What’s coming up in 2014?

KJ: 2014 is going to be a year of finalizing some of the internal structures we created in 2013. Right now we’re in the process of creating a full Grassroots Team that will become an autonomous part of HH4C.

We’re planning on throwing six new shows in the year, and working with students and educators at schools and in programs around the Bay Area. We’ll continue supporting The Holdout and the work they do in the Oakland community and any of our coalition partners who want Hip Hop at their events. We will also be looking to acquire a farm in Oakland to provide fresh produce for those in need.

All in all, 2014 will be a year of building our capacity and increasing our programmatic reach. We’re excited to see how much of an impact we can have.

MG: Who do you dream of having work with Hip Hop For Change? Like, if you could pick one or two rappers, alive or dead, who would you want to work with? Why?

KJ: I know Devin Weaver wants to work with Immortal Technique and Dead Prez. I would say I want to bring The Roots, Zion I, or Mr Lif. As far as who I like in the bay, we’ve got 20 featured artists on our website that represent some of the best in the bay. I love them all!