Alphabet Rockers hip-hop group conjures up kids to create change : NPR


Hip-hop collective Alphabet Rockers makes music for and with kids.

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Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers


Hip-hop collective Alphabet Rockers makes music for and with kids.

Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers

When Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd based the efficiency collective Alphabet Rockers, the longtime mates wished to encourage kids to make social change. Hip hop appeared the proper medium.

“whereas you have gotten a look at hip hop, it is an invite to be precisely who you are,” mentioned McGaw. “There’s additionally rather pretty a little bit of wordplay, so it is utterly a root of gratifying dialog, expression, bravado, listening, all this stuff that teachers try to create.”

however Shepherd mentioned they shortly realized one factor was lacking. “What was driving into us is that we would have preferred to do it with — versus for — kids,” he mentioned.

so as that they added three of them: Kali de Jesus, Tommy Shepherd III and Maya Fleming, all now youngsters. It labored. The Oakland, California-based mostly collective went on to earn two Grammy Award nominations in basically the easiest kids’s Music Album class for his or her infectiously groovy and good songs that enchantment to kids and adults alike.

Now they’ve dropped a mannequin new album, “The movement,” which showcases upbeat tracks about restorative justice, Juneteenth, and the method you presumably can create group by having every others’ backs.

“each time they launch a mannequin new video or tune, we play it for our staff, as a outcome of it is so uplifting,” mentioned Christy Estrovitz, youth companies supervisor for the San Francisco Public Library, which has hosted the Rockers many occasions over the previous decade. “they’ve intergenerational enchantment.”


‘The movement’ album cowl

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‘The movement’ album cowl

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On a current Wednesday afternoon after faculty, the collective was of their Oakland studio, and the youngsters have been throwing verses backwards and forwards.

“i am simply loving the riffing,” mentioned thirteen-12 months-outdated Rockers’ member Maya. She joined the group after her dance teacher urged she confirm it out. Like all three youngsters, she sings on — and wrote songs for — the mannequin new album. “simply doing no matter includes thoughts that goes with the tune.”

Her colleague Tommy III, 14, is the son of Shepherd and has been throughout the group his complete life; you presumably can see him in early Rockers movies when he was a toddler. He mentioned he joined the group in kindergarten as a outcome of it felt proper.

“It wasn’t like i used to be like routinely inside the group merely as a outcome of he was my dad,” Tommy III mentioned.

Kali, thirteen, joined the band in kindergarten, too; he and Tommy III are best mates. “Dang! I’ve recognized him longer than half my life!” Kali mentioned.

the two boys take pleasure in capturing hoops and goofing off outdoors the studio all by breaks. however they’ve a critical side; the songs they contributed to the mannequin new album take an unflinching have a look at methods of oppression.

“i would like to encourage kids to be no matter they should be on the planet with out having to ponder, ‘i do not wanna be like a lawyer as a outcome of I really feel like that is solely for white people,’ or one factor like that,” mentioned Tommy III of his tune, “The Change Up.”

“My tune, ‘video games,’ is with regard to the identical factor,” mentioned Kali. “It targets all people. it is actually exhibiting up the methods that the federal authorities is inserting on people in on a daily basis life for what they’re.”


The group chats all by a rehearsal at their Oakland studio

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The group chats all by a rehearsal at their Oakland studio

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The third youth member of the group, Maya, mentioned she initially noticed herself solely as a dancer, however being a factor of the collective helped her to develop utterly different inventive expertise. recently, she carried out her tune “Our flip,” about dealing with the chaos of life underneath COVID-19, all by the Rockers’ current set at a block celebration thrown by the Smithsonian Museum of African-American historic previous and tradition in Washington, D.C.

“The message that they make the most of is one which’s resonant contained in the museum,” mentioned Leslie Walker, who oversees social justice and scholarly packages there. “How they outline hip hop as freedom of tradition, freedom of expression, and using it as a method for youthful people to discuss about social factors and social justice.”

The Rockers carry out all by the nation, however as quickly as they’re house inside the Bay space, they preserve busy with live shows and social justice-centered workshops for youths in libraries and schools.

The San Francisco Public Library’s Estrovitz mentioned the teenage members are particularly inspiring to her youthful patrons.

“What’s actually cool [is] so far few years, they’ve actually seen their youth performers [become] ambassadors and function fashions,” Estrovitz mentioned. “So now i am seeing youthful kids trying up, not simply at Tommy and Kaitlin, however on the youth.”

The collective is hoping “The movement” will internet them a third Grammy nomination this 12 months in basically the easiest kids’s Music Album class — this time, maybe it is going to even be a win.

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