Hip Hop on L.O.C.K Music Program Teaches Students Academic, Practical Skills

Article excerpt

Generally speaking, students probably should spend less time daydreaming about becoming world-famous rappers, and more time studying.

But, what if there was a way to somehow combine the two?

A group of local music-industry insiders have created a program that combines hip-hop dreams with a subtle, hands-on approach to learning. The central premise behind educational nonprofit Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. is that hip-hop can be used as a tool to help teach kids all kinds of skills -- such as the math in music, the science of sound and the intricacies of figurative language. In the process, participating students get to write, perform and produce their own hip-hop CD.

Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. stands for leadership development, organizational skills, cooperative economics and knowledge of the music business. It was founded by Emmai Alaquiva, owner of Ya Momz House, a recording studio in East Liberty.

"Hip-hop is very popular. In Pittsburgh, with Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, these students believe if Wiz and Mac can do it, we can do it, too," says Jamar Thrasher, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student who works with Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. "And we don't want to shut anyone down, or sell their dreams short.

"We use hip-hop, but we use it positively," Thrasher says. "They have to make songs that are community-based or academic-based. It's not appropriate to talk about how much weed you smoke, and how much beer you drink. ... We also teach them about literature -- what onomatopoeia is, what a stanza is, what a meter is -- because they don't really know these things. Teaching them about figurative language -- what a metaphor is, what a simile is, what alliteration is. A lot of these students come in, and they're not the best students, but they're given a chance."

Hip Hop on L.O.C.K began in 2007, and thousands of students have participated, from schools as diverse as Pittsburgh Public Schools, The Ellis School, Winchester Thurston and Propel schools.

"During the three years that Propel has been partnering with HHOL, we have run six cohorts, providing roughly 48 students with access to this incredible programming," says Lindsay Carr, a teacher at Propel Andrew Street High School in Homestead, "While in the program, students have learned to make beats, write lyrics, run all of the audio equipment in the studio and network to promote their groups. Additionally, students have had the opportunity to learn from some of the top DJs in the city and to experience a photo shoot. "

But Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. programs don't end at the soundproof walls of the recording studio.

"A major part of the HHOL program is the community 'throwback,' where the students perform community service to give back to their communities," says Carr.

Students have organized cleaning up trash in Homestead, playing bingo with the residents at Eldercrest Nursing Center, collecting old cell phones for the Women's Shelter of Pittsburgh and holding a bake sale to benefit the Salvation Army.

The students have performed at various venues throughout the city. Some have traveled even farther.

One group, The Futuristicz, traveled to New York City for a week, Carr says, "where they met with the CEO of Promotions at J Records, toured BET (television network) and appeared in the audience of '106 and Park,' toured several radio stations and recorded a song with renowned artist Chen Lo at Smash Studios in Manhattan. Most recently, the group 6 Deep had the opportunity to meet recording artist Tyga, who did a drop for their album. …