hip hop and spoken word curriculum in Durham public school system

A few months ago I started working with an incredible spoken word artist, Kane “Novakane” Smego, a member of the Sacrificial Poets. He was in the midst of developing a curriculum called YouTh ink, which empowers teenage youth through spoken word. We combined YouTh ink with the Blackademics curriculum (learn more about that here) and taught a 10-week pilot program called Poetic Justice at Jordan High School in Durham. It was incredible. We’ve just started a second 10-week run at the Durham Performance Learning Center. Check out this article by The Chronicle about the program.


On the last day of January, two men in knit caps and hoodies walked into the Durham Performance Learning Center, stood up on tables in its crowded cafeteria and started yelling.

“How many of y’all like poetry? How many of y’all like hip-hop? Yeah? Aight, well check this out, then!”

And then Pierce Freelon and Kane Smego started performing spoken-word poems, delivering rhymes with such thunderous flow that students leapt out of their chairs. They were recruiting participants for Poetic Justice, their spoken-word after-school program, and by the time they left, they had handed out 70 applications—or one to nearly every student in the room at the small, nontraditional high school geared toward children who have not performed well in traditional settings.

First offered at Jordan High School in September, Freelon and Smego began a second 10-week program at DPLC last Tuesday. Their course promotes artistic expression, providing an outlet for students who are otherwise struggling.

“[Freelon and Smego] are addressing the needs of kids who have been neglected by the public school system and who don’t fit in the traditional mold,” said Danielle Riley, an English teacher at Jordan who works with students who struggle with literacy. “The talents they do have are writing and spitting their poems, and there’s not a lot of opportunity to do that in the fast-paced, highly-tested, highly-driven curriculum of our public school system.”

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#Jan25 Hip Hop in Solidarity with the People of Egypt


Shouts to The Narcicyst for this gem! Here’s Hip Hop’s statement of solidarity to the people of Egypt, featuring Amir Sulaiman, Omar Offendum, The Narcicyst, Ayah & Freeway (produced by Sami Matar), entitled #Jan25. It’s so refreshing to hear musicians match the energy and passion of a people engaged in revolution. I hope we can Catch a Fire from the Egyptian people and catalyze our own political and musical uprising.

Shouts to brother Youssef for putting me on!

1 Comment. Filed under music.

The Beast’s feature story in The Indepenent

Check out this article on The Beast, featured in The Independent… (wasn’t I just talking about my alma mater, EK Powe?)


Even as a kindergartner at Durham’s E.K. Powe Elementary School, Pierce Freelon loved hip-hop. Rather than adoring the tunes of his mother, Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon, he idolized those of LL Cool J. But as a preteen, he accompanied her on tours of Japan and Finland. Everything changed.

“I knew it would change him in many ways,” Nnenna says. “Traveling allows you to see yourself through other people’s eyes and can expand your notion of what it means to be you.”

“Her show was full of people old enough to be my grandma,” Pierce jokes. “It could have been the antithesis of cool, but kicking it with the musicians and getting to experience what it’s like to live on the road … really gave me an appreciation for the life of a live musician. Every room, every instrument, every vibe had its own character and brought a different type of performance from my mom and her band.”

Freelon delved into records by Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny when he returned to America, but his first foray into music was hip-hop. He formed the group Language Arts just before college with fellow Bull City emcee Aden Darity. During a collaboration with Raleigh brass band Children of the Horn, the trio broke from its usually DJ-dependent instrumentation.

“It was kind of an epiphany,” Freelon remembers. “I didn’t realize at the time that it would be the direction that I would end up taking musically with The Beast, but it was so different and invigorating.”

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100 Schools of Thought

Local reflections on education from a young father in Durham, North Carolina…
My daughter is bossy.

Last night we stayed up until 3 a.m. playing with stuffed animals, drinking milk and watching ESPN. If I attempted to alter her evening routine by getting up to pour myself a glass of water, or changing the channel, she threatened to awaken her brother with sirens.

This is how she controls me – by sounding the alarms if I step out of line. And when I got so frustrated that even the blaring pipes of a jazz singer’s granddaughter couldn’t deter my will, she hit me with her secret weapon. Her fat cheeks spread like the Red Sea revealing a gummy, toothless smile so gentle and disarming, that it persuaded me to stay up for an additional two hours of watching UNC men’s basketball get pummeled in the Top 10 plays of the day. Eventually, she drifted to sleep.

As I staggered to bed eager to squeeze the consciousness from my pillow, I was thinking about a conversation I had with Kathryn (my wife) earlier that day about where to send the kids to school. I couldn’t sleep as questions about educational environment, socialization, growth and exposure lingered on my mind.

Luckily we have tons of great options for our kids in Durham, North Carolina where there are public, private, Montessori, magnet and charter schools for children all ages.

As Durhamites, my wife and I have personally sampled much of what the Bull City has to offer. Kathryn attended the area’s premier private school, Durham Academy for much of here middle school and high school career. She’s not what they call a “lifer” (someone who has attended DA for a whopping 12 years or more: from elementary school through high school), but she did ride for nearly a decade as a Cavalier.

I experienced a healthy mix of Durham’s public and private school sector. My siblings and I all attended a charming public elementary school called, E.K. Powe (a place to grow). From Powe my brother Deen went to Shepard Middle, a public school named after the founder of Durham’s Historically Black College, North Carolina Central University. He had a miserable time there.

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The Boondocks: Return of the KING

Back during season 1 of the revolutionary anime The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder dropped Return of the King – a controversial interpretation of a 21st Century Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. See if you can catch the references to The Last Poets “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution” in King’s final speech, which drew the ire of Al Sharpton, among others. BAM!

Find more videos like this on The Spill Movie Community

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Hip Hop, Music & Politics at NCCU

I’m teaching a new course at North Carolina Central University called: Hip Hop, Music and Politics. The class explores the relationships between music and various political movements. By addressing music of artists like KRS-One, Bob Marley, Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill we gain invaluable insight into the Stop the Violence, Rastafari, Anti-Lynching and Women’s Movements. Check me out of facebook to learn more about the class and curriculum.


1 Comment. Filed under education,Hip-Hip.

Find the Beat: PBS promotes diversity with Esperanza Spalding

Jazz aficionado Esperanza Spalding could be hosting a new progressive music show on PBS called Find The Beat. Find the Beat features Esperanza joining with a group, a band or solo musician to explore the roots of their music. Their journeys take them to see authentic performers, explore cultural connections and investigate musical history with co-host Pierce Freelon. Support diverse and innovative programming on public television by emailing: difundsubmissions@pbs.org – and telling PBS to fund Find The Beat. Read more about PBS’ initiative after the jump.


9 Comments. Filed under jazz,music,television.

New Progressive Sounds from The Beast

The Beast – Freedom Part 2 from BECAUSEUS on Vimeo.

On Tuesday The Beast’s new anthem Freedom Part 2 was released to the masses (check us out on 2dopeboyz.com). I wrote an article about the song, which was published in the News and Observer entitled, When Freedom Disappears. The articles talks about how and why we made a music video for Freedom Part 2, and why the graffiti mural we painted during the video shoot was controversially removed. Check out the article here. And peep the world premier of the video over on Couch Sessions.

1 Comment. Filed under Hip-Hip,music.

Everybody Hates Chris. Columbus Day Remixed.

Happy Columbus day. A national holiday dedicated to one of the most insidious agents of colonialism, genocide, theft and enslavement. I came across a video beckoning us to reconsider Columbus day and introduce a national Indigenous cultures holiday. Trust me my Indigenous brothers and sisters – black folks have a whole month, yet that doesn’t do much to curtail the institutionalized systems of oppression that plague our poor communities. If anything, it gives people a pass. It makes them feel good about taking a few days to recognize and appreciate a “minority” community, in lieu of actually sweating, bleeding or dying to make them equal citizens.
And for those of you who doubt my interpretation of Chris’ legacy, don’t take my word for it. Read his journal. The Voyage of Christopher Columbus is public record, you can read the whole thing online. This dude makes Bernie Madoff look like Mother Teresa. To quote revolutionary emcee and historian, me: – “burn in hell Christopher Columbus” (from The Beast‘s song, Movement – download here).

Check out the video “Reconsider Christopher Columbus Day” below.

2 Comments. Filed under history,violence,war.

Throwback Jawn: Mari Evans

This month, I’m giving you a throwback. Sit back, relax, and delve into the genius mind of poet “Aunti” Mari Evans:

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