LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: Blitz the Ambassador is a rapper and a teacher. He grew up in Ghana, moved to Ohio for college and now teaches songwriting at schools in New York City.

NPR Music's Frannie Kelley went with him to a class to learn how he uses hip-hop to tell his story and help teenagers tell theirs.

FRANNIE KELLEY: Samuel Bazawule turned 10 in 1992. He was living in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and there was only one thing he wanted: tapes of rap music from the U.S.

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: It was hip-hop. You didn't even have to ask. You know, that was it. It was like almost cultish, you know? So when people were traveling, they knew not to get anything but hip-hop.

KELLEY: Groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers were beloved in Accra for talking about Africa in their rhymes - and dressing the part.

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: There were these guys wearing Africa medallions and all these dashikis in really cool colors. And to us it was, like, wow, man, they know we exist, you know. It was just so cool that these cool guys, you know, recognized us.

KELLEY: But his all-time favorite hip-hop group was Public Enemy.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: Public Enemy was the ultimate edge to me.


PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) Known as fair and square throughout my years. So I growl at the livin' foul. Black to the bone, my home is your home. So welcome to the terrordome. Subordinate terror.

KELLEY: Twenty years later,�Public Enemy's Chuck D makes an appearance on Blitz's brand new album "Native Sun."


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: (Rapping) It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at. It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at.

CHUCK D: 'Cause where I'm from is a fetus. It's hard to imagine the split (unintelligible) split second in half. You (unintelligible) and call the ambulance.

KELLEY: Blitz lives in the U.S. now. But he didn't move here just to become a rapper.

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: Like most African families, you know, it's really about education. It's really about having those jobs that are pretty standard, you know. A doctor, a lawyer, you know.

KELLEY: So Blitz went to Kent State University and graduated with a business degree. But the whole time he was in Ohio, just like in Accra, he was listening to hip-hop, learning from his big three: Rakim, KRS-One and, of course, Chuck D.

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: One thing I have to tell people, and it's very important: Rap is something I learned. I learned every piece of it. I wasn't born here where it's, like, natural, it just seeps into your lifestyle. You know, this is something that was, like, studied.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: (Rapping) Once upon a time not long ago, in the streets of Accra where we lived life slow, there was a little boy that they called Bazawule, had dreams of becoming the Ambassador. So he studied all the tapes and he studied all the breaks. Drop stereotype, let the people get a taste.

KELLEY: Now when he's not recording or touring, Blitz is a substitute teacher who uses hip-hop in the classroom.

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: Going through college I really recognized that my ability to retain complex rhymes was a major reason why I could cram and pass my exams. You know, I'm not saying every kid does it, but I'm just saying people don't recognize what that does for your brain, you know, in terms of just the repetition and these kids are already into that, you know. So whatever opportunity that I get to be in the classroom with the kids I make sure that they can channel that and they can see the possibility of hip-hop as a means of learning, as a means of explaining their situations and their worlds. And even using references from hip-hop that they fully understand.

KELLEY: I went with him to a songwriting class in a Bedford-Stuyvesant high school called Brooklyn Community Arts and Media, or BCAM.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: So let's talk like always.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: Come on, guys. Come on, guys.

KELLEY: The class talked about songs they'd written together in the past, some about being immigrants, some about power. And then they got down to the business of coming up with a new song. They decided to write about teen pregnancy.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: Let's work on this for a second. So we have our subject matter down. Now let's talk about our structure, OK? I want everybody to write eight bars.

KELLEY: The class settled in to write their eight bars as Blitz pounded out a beat on a desk in front of the room.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can we do a capella?

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: It's cool. You can do a capella. I'll just keep this rhythm going. Is it going to hurt you? The beat won't hurt you. Come on. Eight bars. We have five minutes left.

KELLEY: He encouraged them, gave up beating on the table when one student offered up a beat she had made for the class, and, after about 20 minutes, acted as hype man for the teenagers.



BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you, BCAM for the ones and twos...

KELLEY: They went around the room each grabbing the mic and dropping a verse in turn.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Come on, girl, you've got to try. Think about all the consequences you've faced. You got to protect yourself.

KELLEY: The kids were a little nervous about performing in front of each other and a reporter they'd never met before and their teacher. But Blitz, born and raised in Africa, looked perfectly at home leading a classroom of Brooklyn teenagers in a cypher.



BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: (Rapping) Talking about the girl that's 16 years old, rolling around the streets of New York so cold, with two babies trying to do her best, trying to beat the rest, trying to be the best...

KELLEY: When Blitz talks, the distance between the 10-year-old version of him - the hip-hop super fan in Ghana - and the grown up Blitz - the rapper who lives in Brooklyn - doesn't seem that big. It wasn't all that long ago that he was the same age as the kids he teaches now. And a lot of them will write songs about trying to fit into a society that isn't quite sure what to make of them.

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: I haven't been home in 10 years, but am I still from there? I mean I've lived here this long. I mean how do I reconcile? I go home and I'm a stranger there. And I come here and I'm still never going to be fully, you know, I wasn't born here so there's still a lot that - you know, it's about taking all these pieces - rather than trying hard to fit in to one society based on the fact that you're there physically, you know, it's about really embracing all this peripheral that you are. And saying, all this fits into me and how do I reflect all of this?

KELLEY: That's exactly what Blitz tries to do in his own music.


KELLEY: For NPR News, I'm Frannie Kelley in New York.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: (Rapping in foreign language) (Singing) Accra city blues, oh, she laughed at you.

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR: She does. Accra city blues. Left me so confused. Need her. Need her. Want her. Want her. Tell me. Tell me. Where did she go?

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