Hip-Hop Performer Asheru Passes the mic to Young Artists

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By Maria Kim, Bloc Reporter 

People from all walks of life gathered in Busboys and Poets Tuesday for one reason: hip-hop.

Bomani Armah, host and event coordinator, began “One Mic Festival: Pass the Mic” in D.C., by asking the audience to get up and introduce themselves to each other.

People gave their names, hometowns and favorite songs by legendary West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur.

After discussing the works of Langston Hughes, a poet and activist during the Harlem Renaissance, and the history of blues music, Armah introduced guest speaker Asheru.

Performer Gabriel “Asheru” Benn celebrated the legacy and future of hip-hop as he praised Nas’ recent performance at the Kennedy Center and emphasized the importance of helping the next generation of artists.

Young rappers under the age of 25 performed during the event.

Six artists went on stage to perform in a 16-bar “cypher,” a freestyle rap battle. An audience of about 40 people shouted words of encouragement in the background.

The winner, Marlon “M. Craft” Cirker, said he began attending open mics at Busboys to perform and network with other artists when he came to the area.

“I heard about it as soon as I got to D.C.,” said the 21-year-old, who won two hours of studio time with Urban Intalek Studios. Cirker, a junior urban education major at American University, has been rapping now for about two years.

Asheru is an educator and hip-hop artist, mostly known for creating the theme song for the cartoon show “The Boondocks.”

Not only has he collaborated with rappers like Talib Kweli, Common and Mos Def, but Asheru also gained a master’s degree in education.

“I’m kind of like a hip-hop anthropologist, if you will,” Asheru said. “That’s what I do.”

He said he’s put everything he has learned– meeting new people, traveling, creating workshops and performing–into using music and other art forms to help those struggling with traditional education.

Guerilla Arts began in 2005 as a community-based organization focused on integrating the arts into learning and education to help underprivileged D.C. youth.

“We don’t believe in the starving artist kind,” Asheru said.

Guerilla Arts also employs local artists to teach what they can to the younger generation while still being able to work on his or her own projects.

Katy Axelsson, 18, of Kensington, Md., came to the show because her creative writing class at the Academy of the Holy Cross asked students to attend poetry readings or other related events.

It was interesting to hear about poetry influencing hip-hop, Axelsson said.

Although this was the first “Pass The Mic” event at Busboys, Armah, poetry director for the community gathering place, said he hopes to continue hosting shows.

“The idea of ‘Pass the Mic’ is the idea that hip-hop isn’t dead,” 36-year-old Armah said. “People my age all the time say that they’re no longer making good hip-hop now. And I know this isn’t true.”

Through Busboys and Poets and events at The Kennedy Center, he said he hopes to “shine light” for the kids who want to pursue music, or arts and make an effort to make that path easier.

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