Immersing himself in Worcester’s hip-hop culture wasn’t originally in Holy Cross sophomore RJ Johnson’s plans when he first got to the city — it started with a college class, the opening rap of a podcast, and the discovery of a community of artists just waiting to be heard.
Johnson’s class was taught by Dr. Megan Ross, who this year founded the Worcester chapter of Hip Hop Congress, a national nonprofit that works to bring social change through hip-hop education.
As part of that effort, Ross has facilitated the creation of two Web series in conjunction with Holy Cross and Clark University, both projects involving students from her hip-hop education classes.
Beyond the Web series, the Hip Hop Congress is also hosting events, an education series (including classes this summer on breaking), essay-writing contests, and pop-up performances. For its inaugural event on July 24 entitled “Words You Can See,” several Worcester artists will showcase their music videos and explain the conception of the song, video, and lyrics. Rapper Death Over Simplicity will host.
“This project, the series, the nonprofit, are really all helping to promote a culture in which Black Lives Matter,” said Ross, a visiting professor of Africana Studies at Holy Cross and a visiting faculty member at Clark University. “Hip-hop artists and their contributions to the local culture have tended to be marginalized in narratives of the city. Hip-hop is originally Black American music, so in the Congress and in all of my classes, I hope to promote and celebrate that heritage.”
Johnson (virtually) stumbled into Ross’s class last September and, with her help, dove head-first into Worcester’s music scene. He ended up creating the opening theme song for his class’s version of the Web series “Live with the Woo Crew,” which features interviews with artists from the city’s hip-hop community, including rappers, singers, and graffiti artists. (The episodes can be found at worcesterhiphopcon.wixsite.com/whhc.)
Beyond having the opportunity to write, record, and perform an integral part of the show, Johnson also met dozens of artists. Talking to them inspired him to pursue his own art as a musician — and take a closer look at the art created around him.
“It’s important for people within Worcester to hear the stories of the hip-hop artists,” said Johnson, who is from Matthews, N.C. “People can learn from it — I know I have. People in the Hip Hop Congress and in my class have been an inspiration for me. Any students, my age, younger or older, should learn from that. We all can.”
That’s why Ross founded the Worcester chapter and continues to try to get young people involved. The Web series is one way to achieve those goals — and it’s working. Johnson, 19, plans to remain active in the Congress.
“I want to see myself as one of the leaders, one of the people that can push the Worcester Hip Hop Congress further,” he said. “It helped me grow. Now I want to be a voice for the rest of the people involved.”
For more information on the Worcester Hip Hop Congress and its upcoming events, go to worcesterhiphopcon.wixsite.com/whhc
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.