Hip hop clubs en(rap)ture OPRF students

Members of Hip Hop Wing stand in a circle, bobbing their heads and snapping their fingers. A hip hop beat plays as students cheer each other on, waiting their turn to share their new verses.

Down the hall, Hip Hop Club members wait their turn to record in the studio while a student sound engineer works in the control room. OPRF’s two hip hop clubs focus on different aspects of hip hop culture and the creative process.

Hip Hop Wing was started by Christina Santana around 2005 as a branch of Spoken Word. “There was a need from some of the Spoken Word Club members at the time for space dedicated to building lyricism and exploring hip hop,” said Christian Robinson, an OPRF graduate and former Spoken Word co-teacher who currently sponsors Hip Hop Wing.

Special education teacher and case manager Anthony Clark started Hip Hop Club in 2014. Clark, who graduated from OPRF in 2001, said when he attended OPRF he felt the presence of hip hop culture was lacking. He found community in his rap group.

“Some of our greatest memories,” said Clark, were “freestyle, laughter, with my friends cyphering (freestyling). It was communal and built a lot of friendships.” Clark has worked on growing the presence of hip hop culture at OPRF also by starting and helping to develop a hip hop history course.

In a typical Wing meeting, students begin by sharing their current favorite artists (the club’s most-listened-to artists of 2021 included Kanye West and Playboi Carti). Then Robinson usually gives club members a pre-reading (usually an article from DJBooth, a hip hop news site), which students take inspiration from. Robinson leads Wing like a relaxed, supportive, and cooperative elective class, putting student’s ideas first.

“I might teach them a new skill and then they’ll implement the new skill with the pre-reading (and) write their own verse,” said Robinson. “Then we usually end by sharing the verses we wrote.”

Wing has “been a tool for me to get better at writing and performing,” said senior Devin Smith. Smith finds 16-minute writing sessions, during which students have 16 minutes to write 16 lines to a beat, especially helpful.

Hip Hop Club’s meetings are less structured and almost entirely student-led. Students record in the back room with a student sound engineer while others work on lyrics, listen to music, and hang out with friends.

“I didn’t have a studio to go to at first,” said Antoine Ford, a freshman at Triton Community College who was involved in Hip Hop Club while he was an OPRF student. “Coming (to Hip Hop Club) gave me a sense of what a studio looks like. It gave me that first opportunity to get recorded.” Ford mentors current members of Hip Hop Club and releases music under the name A.i Dayoungan.

Step Team also rehearses during Hip Hop Club meetings, as the two groups recently merged. Senior Brianna Sargent-Mosby took over OPRF’s Step Team after the team’s coach left last year and needed a sponsor for the club.

“I thought, ‘Who would be better to sponsor than Mr. Clark,’” said Sargent-Mosby. “He said (of course) since step is a form of hip hop and dance…Hip Hop Club/Step is honestly a safe space for kids no matter what background. Kids can join Step if in need of a family because that’s what we are. We are more than just a step team, we are a safe place. (Step team was) a family that I needed.”

“Rap is a culture, and with any culture there are subcultures,” said Clark. “In my opinion, Hip Hop Wing is geared more towards students who are steeped in hip hop, conscious rap, backpack rap, with the influence of spoken word intertwined. Students generally are focused on writing, music structure, and perfecting their craft.

“Hip Hop Club is geared more towards students who wouldn’t necessarily find Hip Hop Wing or any other club appealing. They are less focused on perfecting their writing and more focused on expressing themselves immediately via recordings in which they work on perfecting their booth presence and flow sound, as well as music production.”

The clubs have collaborated in the past. “Hip Hop Wing has come over and recorded in the studio, we have held cyphers (freestyling together), and Wing has helped in the past as well with writing,” said Clark. Both Clark and Robinson are open to collaborating again in the future.

Both clubs have big plans for second semester. Robinson hopes to get members of Hip Hop Wing into the recording studio. Meanwhile, Hip Hop Club plans on hosting a showcase in March and will soon be holding cyphers to choose performers.

Hip Hop Wing meets Wednesdays after school in the Spoken Word office (3348). Hip Hop Club meets Wednesdays and Thursdays after school in room 3286.

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