Kids Learn Leadership Through Hip Hop

You don't have to be famous to be successful in the music industry. This is the lesson a group of at-risk teens learned at the Hip Hop Leadership Camp in Los Angeles. Reporter Jenee Darden takes a look a the free program that teaches kids business skills through hip hop.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Rappers and singers aren't the only moneymakers in the music industry. That's the message that at-risk kids are learning at a camp in Los Angeles where they're taught business skills through hip-hop music.

Reporter Jenee Darden spent a day with the teens, where they practiced everything from crafting a business plan to rapping on the beat.

(Soundbite of music)

JENEE DARDEN: It's Friday night and rap beats are blaring from a UCLA dorm. This is not a party, but another night of work for kids in the Hip-Hop Leadership Camp, a free five-day program where students learn the business side of the music industry through hip-hop.

Unidentified Man (Student): We started off with $850,000 right? I might get $15,000, and I'll give you $835,000.

DARDEN: Those are the kids from the mock company Field Goal Records(ph). Students are divided into record labels. Each has a different position, from marketing manager to president and CEO. And like real life, business doesn't always go smoothly.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hey, you're doing it wrong.

Unidentified Woman #2: I told you so.

Unidentified Man #2: What?

Unidentified Woman #1: Let me do it. Let me do it.

Unidentified Woman #2: I don't want to say I told you so.

DARDEN: The camp targets at-risk youths from 12 to 15 years old. Many students are from low-income backgrounds. Hundreds of kids apply, but only 30 are chosen. Big Paul Tubai(ph) is the director of 2Extremes, the non-profit organization that holds the program. He says the camp aims to show kids there's more to music than fame.

Mr. PAUL TUBAI (Director, 2Extremes): That's all they see is the rapper, the producer or the bouncer but not realizing that there's a whole farm of people behind that that make just as much money, if not more, that have just as much power but may not be in the limelight. But you best believe that those people in the limelight know who they are.

DARDEN: But the program also inspires kids, like 15-year-old Nico Servan(ph) from Oxnard, California. Dressed hair to toe a military fatigue, Nico says the program helped him get over his shyness.

Mr. NICO SERVAN (Participant, Hip-Hop Leadership Camp): Before the program I never talked in front of a crowd and I really never talked to people. And then after that it helped me in high school to get promoted higher in the ROTC, the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. And I had to talk in front of a whole battalion, and the battalion is like 145 kids.

DARDEN: The same goes for Brianna Smith(ph), a 12-year-old from Watts and the CEO of Field Goal Records. She says the camp influenced her to change career goals.

Ms. BRIANNA SMITH (Participant, Hip-Hop Leadership Camp): Records, I wasn't really into it. I wasn't really going this route. I was going to try to go to school, go to law school. And now it changed me because I like it and I'm starting - and I get it. And they tell me, like, Brianna that's a good thing to do and you will make a great president.

DARDEN: The camp draws hip-hop stars. This year, MC Lyte, along with music executives, stressed that the journey to success doesn't come overnight.

Ms. MC LYTE (Musician): A lot of the young people have been leaned in the direction of believing that things come easily, and that's not their fault. You know, it's media's. It's like okay, all of a sudden you see this guy pop up but you never really know his story and how long he's been working at it. And even if it's artists, you know, or executives, they should know that it takes work.

DARDEN: And the path to wealth, or bling, also takes time, says marketing executive Kevin Black. He works with top artists like Snoop Dogg, Common and 50 Cent. Kevin also deals with real estate and tells students, don't just think, show me the money but…

Mr. KEVIN BLACK (Marketing Executive): Save your money. Let me hear you all say that.

Unidentified Group: Save your money.

Mr. BLACK: The entertainment business is what it means - entertainment. When the entertainment stops, you stop. So get another business.

DARDEN: But the camp is not all business. Students also learn how to write lyrics and rap. Field Goal Records represents the group Five Knockouts(ph). Thirteen-year-old Jovanna Smith(ph) a.k.a. Tiny Knockout wrote their song.

Ms. JOVANNA SMITH (Participant, Hip-Hop Leadership Camp): (Rapping) Call me Tiny Knockout, the one and only. I can say a rhyme but not for the (unintelligible).

DARDEN: The petite Watts native says writing rhymes is not a small job.

Ms. SMITH: It is kind of difficult because you got to stay on the beat and stuff.

DARDEN: The students knocked out their families and friends during a performance at the end of the program.

FIVE KNOCKOUTS (Rap Group): (Rapping) Five knockouts got the shorty down. Tiny Knockout about to do what I do. I came to tell the boys that girls could do it too. I got much game, no need to be ashamed. They otherwise misread the rap game. My rap game connection so…

DARDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jenee Darden.

FIVE KNOCKOUTS: (Rapping) And why is it I got to do my own shout out? (Unintelligible) but the Five Knockouts.

CHIDEYA: This story was originally produced as part of NPR's Next Generation Radio project.

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