Recap: Teen Hacker Play Spaze & All Ages Hip Hop Concert
On November 22, 2014, the artist and educator behind Soh Nup Ink and The Living Remix Project, also known as Aaron “SpazeCraft” Lazansky-Olivas, called on a multitude of Hive organizations to host GIT LIT!: A Teen Hacker Play Spaze + All-Ages Hip-Hop Concert at the Andrew Freedman Home (AFH) in the Bronx. As a two-part daytime and nighttime session open to all ages, the event was created as a way for youth across NYC’s five boroughs to come out and get their hands on some innovative tech, media, and music tools. The project was scaffolded by the successful pilot “Hacker Play Spaze”, which was produced in the summer, with the Freedman Home Summer Day Camp providing the main participants and joining forces with Iridescent’s “Movable Game Jam” (led by Kevin Miklasz) for extra impact.
During the Hacker Play Spaze session from 12-5 PM, the host organizations stitched their stellar workshops together to create a mini-Maker Faire. Parents and kids came out on their Saturday afternoon to play and have fun with technology. They were introduced to engineering, producing and performing a song, creating a stop-motion animation film, remixing a song via body gesture in Kinect and Max/MSP, learning coding skills by playing digital games, and making an original instrument as well as programming sounds for it.
Students laughed, smiled, and in the midst of constructing songs and digital inventions, they filled up on some pizza, thanks to funds provided by Iridescent and Hive NYC Learning Network. Participating organizations included Iridescent, Carnegie Hall, Building Beats, New York Hall of Science, Black Girls Code, Exposure Camp, Rap Research Lab, musician and homemade instrument builder Adam November, and Renegade Performance Group.
Click here to watch video of SpazeCraft showing a student some music production techniques
Later that evening, SpazeCraft kicked off the Intelligent Rap concert with some presentations on Hip-Hop culture to an audience of 35-40 people, mostly high school students, but also a few parents with young children.
The first two presentations were given by high school students from the Rap Research Lab, created and led by AFH Artist In Residence, Tahir Hemphill. Tahir is the creator of the “Hip-Hop Word Count” Project—in which students are taught math and research methodologies as a way of creating usable statistical data to study Hip-Hop culture. I was blown away by what they presented.
The first student presented two studies on the question “What is Hip-Hop?”, explaining how she used Google Analytics to chart the increase in brand name awareness among the general public following mentions in popular Hip-Hop songs. My favorite was the spike that Tom Ford received after Jay-Z dropped “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”.
The second student created a “Rapper Popularity Calculator,” which used an algorithm that he developed with the help of his AP Calculus teacher. He took followings and interactions on all of the major social media networks and generated a ranking from 1-100 of each artist’s popularity. Although the student explained that it was not perfect, he demonstrated that it was fairly accurate by displaying ASAP Rocky as the most popular artist today, while Busta Rhymes had fallen much lower in the rankings. He then proceeded to make everyone in the room giggle by showing off his worldwide mapping analysis of mentions of different cannabis strains by rappers from 1987-2010. I can just imagine how many employers in different sectors of industry might be interested in hiring a student with that kind of knowledge and skill.
Next in line was a presentation by one of the participants in SpazeCraft’s Level Up Media Arts (LUMA) Program, which takes place within his very own Art and Media studio at the AFH. Working on video game development, this student had learned to code two basic video games: a pong game and a musical notes simulator.
After that, we heard an inspirational talk and dance performance from adult mentor Indio, from the legendary Dynamic Rockers Breaking Crew. Indio spoke about developing a marketable craft and the importance of learning to effectively communicate—and collaborate—with people in order to succeed in business and in life.
For the last couple of hours, everyone circled around and saw about ten phenomenal student rap performances. My favorite was from the 2014 winner of the Science Genius Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S.—Victoria Richardson from Bronx Compass High School (where the legendary Afrika Bambaataa went to school and threw one of the first music jams in the gym!). This sophomore in high school got up to the mic, and after a few minutes of breathing through her stage fright, she rapped about the physiological act of swallowing as a metaphor for swallowing her pride and her struggles with an unnamed male figure in her life. Needless to say, it was powerful!
For me, it was extremely impressive to see how SpazeCraft had managed to get so many high-school kids in a room on a Saturday night and have them learn from their very own peers about math, science, research, and business skills. Without a single interruption, they listened attentively, asked questions, and clapped at the end of each presentation. Then, in front of their peers, they took turns giving artistic performances.
Shout out to Circa 95’s Reph Star and Rhyme Factory participants who were special “peer” performance guests.
Rather than the anxiety and moans typically associated with in-school presentations and performances, the evening was filled with smiles all around. Speaking with some of the students at the end, they talked about their enjoyment working with SpazeCraft’s LUMA program and how much fun they had that evening.
For me, seeing this work first-hand is a huge motivator for Building Beats to keep supporting these programs. Hopefully sharing with you will spread this appreciation for the tireless efforts of SpazeCraft and all of the participating organizations.
To keep these programs running, Building Beats will be working with SpazeCraft to find ways to continue hosting rap concerts on a recurring basis. Their goal is to create a self-sustaining space for youth from all over the city to have a place to gather, learn, and vibe out on Saturday nights. These events would also become a recruiting portal for creative students to formally join SpazeCraft’s LUMA , where they can level up their craft into an artistic and marketable product.
Furthermore, the daytime Hacker Play Spaze was just one of 16 events that will host digital music production workshops over the next six months. These workshops will be run through a partnership between Carnegie Hall and Building Beats, which was launched into action through an initial grant from Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust. To learn more, get involved, and contribute to these programs, head to: http://igg.me/at/buildingbeats