Young MCs bust a move in Powderhorn Park

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Something good is going on in Powderhorn Park. Lawrence Moore and Jared Stulen, knowledgeable fellows who care about kids, are impacting young lives by empowering adolescents to act on their recording industry aspirations.

The project’s name, the Audio Production Program, is fairly dry. The project’s productions, however, are anything but. With the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Powderhorn Park, and Minneapolis’ renowned Institute of Production and Recording (IPR) footing the bills and supplying resources, Moore and Stulen (both from IPR) supervise and instruct a six-week, very much hands-on workshop acquainting prospective producers, engineers and artists between the ages of 12 and 18 with the basics of making one’s way around a recording studio and coming out with viable results. Students learn music composition, rhythm programming, vocal recording, music mixing, lyric composition and CD cover design. And leave with a quality recording. (For good measure, they get a heads-up on protecting their material through copyright.) All this free of charge—for two sessions a week, the only thing youngsters have to pay is attention. “You can’t miss more than two sessions, and you need to call and let us know when you can’t make a session”, Stulen notes.

Another stipulation is that fledgling rappers (all genres are encouraged, but most of the kids want to do hip-hop) have to keep it clean. “Drugs, violence, misogyny, the n-word, and curse words get no love in our class,” says Moore. “This type of thing is self-destructive and I take every opportunity to give examples of why, in ways they may not have thought of. Selling drugs? The amount of hours spent selling drugs, versus the amount of money you make, plus lack of [the] benefits you’d get from a regular job and you are making a little less than minimum wage. Take into account the risk [of going to jail] and you have to be dumb to do it. I talk about these things in a creative manner, because I want them to think about it. If they want to disrespect themselves, their peers and their family, I tell them to do that in their own time. In class, they learn how to express themselves creatively.” And, of course, constructively.

Winter classes start in January. People can register at Powderhorn Park, located at 3400 15th Ave So. (612-370-4960) or on line at minneapolisparks.org. Click Recreation Centers/ Powderhorn Park/ Current Activities.

One participant, 18 year-old Robert Williams, is a thoughtful, earnest and soft-spoken young man with definite ideas of what he wants to hear on his records and a resolute willingness to learn how to capture it. He walked in the door with the right approach, having already done his homework through years of what he now regards as research. “I’ve been listening since I was little. To everything. My biggest influences are old school, like KRS-One. I keep it original, though. [Influences] inspire me, but I work hard to create my own thing.”

It all started 3 years ago. Al Bangoura, director of the Powderhorn Park Recreation Center, has steered the project since its inception. Bangoura realized that one way to get young people to the recreation center was to teach what interested them. “Kids love music. It’s universal”, he explains. “We wanted them to use music to express who they are.” Bangoura acknowledges Sana Robinson, career services manager at IPR, as “the catalyst for getting the relationship going between Powderhorn and IPR.”

Robinson says, “This opportunity came about when Al called looking for teaching assistance with the studio at Powderhorn
Park.” There was already a recording studio, built using $15,000 worth of proceeds from the annual Powderhorn Park Art Fair, “but [it was] not meeting the needs of the youth.” Bangoura adds, “We had the equipment, but needed trained people who could teach and wanted to work with kids. We tapped into [IPR’s] expertise and put together the program.”

As part of their commitment to the project, IPR has donated additional equipment to enhance the students’ learning experience: keyboards, flat-screen monitors and a mixer board. IPR is also pursuing the prospect of creating an advanced educational program that will allow students to build on knowledge gained in the existing workshop. Further, there have been discussions about producing a program, featuring workshop graduates, for Powderhorn’s 2008 Fourth of July celebration. As if that wasn’t enough, IPR and Bangoura hope to expand the program into another park next year.

Finally, the partners are following through. It’s all well and good to show kids how to hone their craft, but making a
CD doesn’t do you much good if that’s all you’ve got. You need to know how to bring it to market. “IPR knows the business and has the networks, so they can help [students] make connections,” says Bangoura.

Commitment, care, and common sense are prevailing at Powderhorn Park on behalf of creative youngsters who otherwise might have a hard time catching a break—let alone a beat.

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