Hip-hop and art collaborate

Though it would have been interesting to see English Instructor Tess Caldwell freestyle another verse for the second day of Los Medanos College’s first hip-hop conference, in her own words, day two still “got pretty funky.”
Rapper and conference organizer Kaila Love said with this event, she hopes to “validate hip-hop in academia.” The effort to do so was apparent Wednesday, Sept. 28 when an assortment of LMC students and faculty filed into the library community room in anticipation for the day’s events including a keynote speaker, musical performances, workshops, as well as live painting.
The keynote speaker, Oakland’s own “moralist, illustrator, activist and educator” Refa One, kicked things off.
Being native to the Bay Area, he was there to speak on the correlation and importance of graffiti or spray-can writing in hip-hop culture. He’s also an artist – he began spray can writing when he was just 12. In fact, many of the writers coming up in the ‘80s were between 12-17 years old. According to Refa, those artists “came out of struggling communities of color.” “Writing exploded I the Bay Area the same time crack cocaine did.” He said because people used the money they made from dealing crack to buy things a 9-5 would take them longer to afford.
In contrast, it was almost uncool to spray-can write because at the end of the day, writers weren’t getting gold chains or fancy shoes out of it.
At this point, the room had become so packed that students and teachers had to stand in the back of the room. Refa decided to set up his PowerPoint, and despite the slight technical difficulties, the audience remained engaged as he began to show the works of local renowned artists from the Bay Area Aerosol Heritage Society including Del Fresh, Chen Chen, Pollinar, Cuba and Lord Shadow. One of the artists, Pollinar was the most mysterious — no one knew the identity or even the gender of this artist even though their work “was all over the Bay Area.” Refa pointed out that nearly all the artists mentioned, “Had almost no formal art experience.” East Coast spray-can writing and Mexican gang art in Los Angeles inspired many of them.
Some of the graffiti crews would get together to talk art and exchange ideas. “Crews were like the fraternities of writing.”
He acknowledged that some pieces were more violent but that “I’d rather see someone draw something like that to take their opponent down, than to actually put lead in them.”
When asked to explain the difference between graffiti and writing, Refa had this to say: “If you write on a wall, you just did graffiti. Writing is leaving your mark in a very specialized way.”
He ended his presentation talking about how both writing and hip-hop go hand in hand when it comes to black people finding an identity for themselves. “These were people who had their cultures taken from them,” he said. “Being able to name yourself is revolutionary and powerful.”
After the presentation, everyone was encouraged to get refreshments and the remaining attendees, were ushered to workshops of their choice. One of which was a workshop called “9,000 Miles: Hip-hop and Mass Incarceration” led by Seattle native Maddy “Madlines” Clifford. The workshop also doubled as a tutorial on writing poetry and raps. “Everyone can write,” she said. “We’re all poets, as people of color, we have poetry in our blood.”
Meanwhile, in L109, hip-hop journalist Davey D led the “Hip-hop Media,” one of the other workshops where he not only discussed his field, but also commented on the different mentalities of celebrities speaking out about issues facing the black community.
While the workshops were going on, artist and designer of Kalakari Clothing Nisha Sembi was working on a live painting of Tupac in the outdoor quad. Later, a DJ, whose music played in the background as she completed her piece, joined her.
After the workshops, there were high-energy performances by artists Rico Pabon, Unlearn the World, Watzreal and Kaila Love. Though by the time these came about, there was only a small crowd of students left. However, this didn’t stop the performers, particularly Pabon and Watzreal, from attempting to engage their audience. It was quiet for bit but audience participation soon picked up.
Love, who performed last, said one of the main goals of having the conference was to get people together to build community and create networking opportunities. She also aimed make typically disenfranchised groups proud so “they can’t feel like their culture is validated.” In terms of her personal goals, she would like to travel and become a hip-hop scholar.
The oncoming of the early evening signaled the end of the conference. The people who stuck around to watch all of the live performances were thanked, and the small crowd dispersed.