Alphabet Rockers hip-hop group conjures up children to create change : NPR
Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers
When Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd based the efficiency collective Alphabet Rockers, the longtime buddies wished to encourage youngsters to make social change. Hip hop appeared the proper medium.
“Once you take a look at hip hop, it is an invite to be precisely who you might be,” mentioned McGaw. “There’s additionally a variety of wordplay, so it is completely a root of enjoyable dialog, expression, bravado, listening, all these items that academics are attempting to create.”
However Shepherd mentioned they shortly realized one thing was lacking. “What was driving into us is that we needed to do it with — versus for — children,” he mentioned.
In order that they added three of them: Kali de Jesus, Tommy Shepherd III and Maya Fleming, all now youngsters. It labored. The Oakland, California-based collective went on to earn two Grammy Award nominations within the Greatest Kids’s Music Album class for his or her infectiously groovy and sensible songs that enchantment to children and adults alike.
Now they’ve dropped a brand new album, “The Motion,” which showcases upbeat tracks about restorative justice, Juneteenth, and easy methods to create neighborhood by having every others’ backs.
“Each time they launch a brand new video or tune, we play it for our workers, as a result of it is so uplifting,” mentioned Christy Estrovitz, youth companies supervisor for the San Francisco Public Library, which has hosted the Rockers many instances over the previous decade. “They’ve intergenerational enchantment.”
Alphabet Rockers/Alphabet Rockers
On a latest Wednesday afternoon after faculty, the collective was of their Oakland studio, and the youngsters had been throwing verses forwards and backwards.
“I am simply loving the riffing,” mentioned 13-year-old Rockers’ member Maya. She joined the group after her dance instructor advised she test it out. Like all three youngsters, she sings on — and wrote songs for — the brand new album. “Simply doing no matter involves thoughts that goes with the music.”
Her colleague Tommy III, 14, is the son of Shepherd and has been across the group his whole life; you’ll be able to see him in early Rockers movies when he was a toddler. He mentioned he joined the group in kindergarten as a result of it felt proper.
“It wasn’t like I used to be like robotically within the group simply because he was my dad,” Tommy III mentioned.
Kali, 13, joined the band in kindergarten, too; he and Tommy III are greatest buddies. “Dang! I’ve identified him longer than half my life!” Kali mentioned.
The 2 boys take pleasure in capturing hoops and goofing off exterior the studio throughout breaks. However they’ve a critical aspect; the songs they contributed to the brand new album take an unflinching take a look at techniques of oppression.
“I need to encourage children to be no matter they need to be on the planet with out having to consider, ‘I do not wanna be like a lawyer as a result of I really feel like that is just for white folks,’ or one thing like that,” mentioned Tommy III of his music, “The Change Up.”
“My music, ‘Video games,’ is about the identical factor,” mentioned Kali. “It targets all people. It is actually displaying up the techniques that the federal government is inserting on folks in on a regular basis life for what they’re.”
Chloe Veltman/NPR/Chloe Veltman/NPR
The third youth member of the group, Maya, mentioned she initially noticed herself solely as a dancer, however being a part of the collective helped her to develop different inventive abilities. Not too long ago, she carried out her music “Our Flip,” about dealing with the chaos of life beneath COVID-19, throughout the Rockers’ latest set at a block occasion thrown by the Smithsonian Museum of African-American Historical past and Tradition in Washington, D.C.
“The message that they make the most of is one that’s resonant inside the museum,” mentioned Leslie Walker, who oversees social justice and scholarly applications there. “How they outline hip hop as freedom of tradition, freedom of expression, and utilizing it as a way for younger folks to discuss social points and social justice.”
The Rockers carry out all around the nation, however after they’re dwelling within the Bay Space, they maintain busy with concert events and social justice-focused workshops for youths in libraries and colleges.
The San Francisco Public Library’s Estrovitz mentioned the teenage members are particularly inspiring to her younger patrons.
“What’s actually cool [is] prior to now few years, they’ve actually seen their youth performers [become] ambassadors and function fashions,” Estrovitz mentioned. “So now I am seeing youthful youngsters wanting up, not simply at Tommy and Kaitlin, however on the youth.”
The collective is hoping “The Motion” will internet them a 3rd Grammy nomination this 12 months within the Greatest Kids’s Music Album class — this time, perhaps it’s going to even be a win.