A program in Flint, Michigan teaches children the fundamentals of songwriting and music production, but the songs they write are not your typical bubblegum pop. Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris explains.

KYLE NORRIS: The idea is not to imitate the stuff you hear on the radio but to write your own songs. So, Studio on the Go has a few ground rules: you've got to keep it positive and no swearing.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Somebody called the doctor, our city is sick. We just need somebody to help Flint town quick.

NORRIS: Some kids sing about what it's like to have someone they love die or to have a family member in jail. Studio on the Go is the brainchild of long-time Flint music producer Pharlon Randle. Randle says one of the things the kids love is the attention they get from adult teachers.

PHARLON RANDLE: They don't have a lot of that one-on-one positive male attention to push them in the right direction to do something great.

NORRIS: These days, Randle has a handful of guys working for him, and they put on several workshops each day in schools and community centers.

RANDLE: Hey, listen, we are...

NORRIS: Today at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint, Randle is helping a room full of kids brainstorm some lyrics.

SHAMAR BROWN: I'm usually the singing type. I'm not the rapping type.

NORRIS: Sing away.


NORRIS: Twelve-year-old Shamar Brown is writing about the topic never letting go.


BROWN: (Singing) I got to get out of here. Man, I'm about to get paid. I'm still...

NORRIS: Everybody jumps in with advice - Brown is singing too high. So, he gives it another go.


BROWN: (Singing) I got to get out of here. Man, I'm about to get paid. Still trying to strive and chase a dollar...

NORRIS: When Brown finished, I asked him what his song about and he was quick with an answer.

BROWN: I got to go, get out of Flint because it's not really nowhere to be here. I want to go to California, Miami. I want to go everywhere.

NORRIS: Fifteen-year-old Khalil Taylor is a rapper, not a singer. He says when he first started coming here he mumbled a lot.

KHALIL TAYLOR: I wasn't confident with my words. I was not good at speaking like now, and I was kind of a shy person. So, now when I feel going to express something. I could just put it out there, no hesitation, more confident with my stuff.

NORRIS: Taylor says he's gone from being a mumbler to being the real deal. So much so that's the rap name he's given himself: Real Deal.


TAYLOR: (Singing) There's a lot of things I could never let go, sentimental memories and heartbreaks cold as snow...

NORRIS: For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris.


TAYLOR: (Singing) Seeing my mom and grandma constantly crying. 'Cause our loved ones are leaving, we're stuck here grieving. This is a reality I don't want to be believing. My heart is sinking. Emotions got me thinking. It was like here then gone like something appeared when I was blinking. We miss you Uncle Antwon and you too rapper D. I always got you in my mind, never letting go by any means. The memories I share with y'all have still been stupid clean. The way my vision's clearing, no one should know my face. 'Cause you may be gone but I know that you in a better place. The lessons that you left me will help me win this race. One of becoming greater with no trace of mistakes...

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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