They don’t rock combat boots, or live in secret forest encampments, and they definitely don’t carry assault rifles. However, Claire Redmond and FranzDiego DaHinten, both youth coordinators, could be described as cultural revolutionaries. They work right smack in the thick of an urban youth cultural movement that builds dynamic, positive relationships in the community through the arts.
Together with a cluster of others, DaHinten and Redmond make up YO! The Movement, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization devoted to helping Twin Cities youth flourish through community involvement, the arts, hip-hop and social-justice and other youth-related issues.
With the Twin Cities Celebration of Hip Hop – the mack daddy of YO!’s public events – on stage this weekend, they once again will prove to all the critics and naysayers how successful social justice work flows through the most creative of venues: hip-hop.
“The three main things we stand for are power, places and perks,” DaHinten said. “We empower (youths), we give them a safe place to be, and we give them perks for becoming involved.”
YO! The Movement began in 1999 as the Youth Council at the Mall of America.
Despite misrepresentation, usual nonprofit financial conundrums and social and cultural prejudice surrounding hip-hop and urban initiatives, YO! has nonetheless emerged as a positive force in youth work. It is an organization devoted to youths and run by youths. Not only is YO! diverse, multitalented and essential to the community, they’re also highly ambitious.
“We try to have our hands in everything. I like to call it the Renaissance youth nonprofit, because whatever is relevant to youth that we can help with, we try to do,” DaHinten said.
YO! runs a program called the What’s Up Youth Information Line, a phone line which young people can call, speak to another young person (called a youth information specialist) and get the skinny on activities, events and other programs and resources in their area. “Boredom. It’s a Dangerous Thing” is the phone line’s slogan.
DaHinten, a University senior majoring in youth studies, Chicano studies and anthropology, runs a YO! program called the Juvenile Justice Youth Advisory Council. He is also a DJ for the Beat Box, a program on Radio K that airs Friday evenings from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Redmond is a business management student at Hamline University. She coordinates YO!’s EYS (Express Yourself) Project. The project promotes YO!’s philosophies through arts and creative activities, such as the monthly showcasing of young artists at the Dinkytowner called The Kick It Spot.
When it comes to creative activities, YO! knows how to hold its own. This weekend’s Twin Cities Celebration of Hip Hop is the brainchild of YO!’s Youth Engagement Supervisor and local artist Toki Wright, along with YO!’s Larry Lucio. The festival started out at Intermedia Arts, and has since expanded to First Avenue.
Over the span of just five years, the festival has been so successful that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has declared Aug. 19 through 21 “Hip Hop Weekend” in Minneapolis.
This is not your average, rudimentary dude-with-a-mic-and-a-beat type of festival. It is a true hip-hop extravaganza, encompassing the work of a menagerie of performers: lyricists, MCs, musicians, turntablers, break-dancers and graffiti writers.
Beginning Friday and extending to Sunday, the three-day jubilee will commence with spinning and a fashion show, as well as a dance exhibition facilitated by Damien “Daylight” Day. Dozens of other performances extend through the weekend, with artists such as Brother Ali and MC Lyte headlining Saturday and Sunday.
DaHinten, also a local hip-hop artist and part of the trio Illuminous 3, will perform Sunday night with Chosen Few.
Redmond said including diversity within the festival was a big objective. “We look at female to male ratio, people of color to non-people-of-color, suburbs to non-suburbs,” she said, “The diversity in the music comes from the diversity in the people that are writing, performing and listening to the music. Hip-hop in general is growing not only as a music genre but as a culture, as something influential to society.”
The advisory committee also aims for a diverse range of talent and style. Redmond said the Minneapolis hip-hop scene, unlike the trademark sounds of East Coast or West Coast hip-hop, is very fluid, heterogeneous and assorted. And because the Midwest hip-hop sound is so different and doesn’t have one unique sound, it’s harder to market.
Therefore, Redmond said, “it’s hard for Minnesota artists to get national recognition because there isn’t that distinct hip-hop sound. It will take a while for the rest of the country to get used to it and appreciate it for what it is.”
This year’s festival will be a glaring testament to the ways in which hip-hop is expanding and breaking down cultural barriers in an audibly enjoyable fashion. “This year, we have artists like the Black Blondies, and the Leroy Smokes and the Omaur Bliss’s where there is a band element. It’s a fusion of house band or jam band with a hip-hop overtone and using different beats,” Redmond said. “It’s more able to hit people on different levels.”