Student organization promotes campus hip-hop scene, culture

By Annette Gonzalez

A hip-hop track titled “How IL” by Urbana-Champaign artists Ed “AMS” Moses and Liam “Concept” Bird begins with a medley of strings quickly layered with a light piano loop and steady drum beats followed by smooth vocals.

“There is definitely more than just corn in Illinois,” Moses raps after the first verse.

The graduate student in educational policy said the track is called “How IL” with the Illinois abbreviation because people assume there is not a hip-hop scene in Champaign-Urbana.

“A lot of people think because this is a college campus, you expect there to be hip-hop, but you expect it to be hip-hop from someplace else,” Moses said.

Moses is member of Urbana-Champaign Hip-Hop Congress, a student organization founded in 2001 to promote awareness of hip-hop culture at the University. He said the founders of the organization came to the University searching for a local hip-hop scene. Unsuccessful in their search, the founders got together with others interested in hip-hop and created the scene themselves by producing music.

Since 2001, the organization has put on a series of events throughout the year promoting hip-hop culture leading up to a week-long series of events. This year, the week is called “4Ward: Hip-Hop Appreciation Week.” The event kicked off on April 1 and will continue from April 3 to 6.

Moses said the events represent the true elements of hip-hop culture: breakdancing, rapping, DJ-ing and graffiti art. Events include an MC showcase, hip-hop musical history by local DJs, a break-dance competition and a graffiti art showcase. Veteran and new Urbana-Champaign Hip-Hop Congress members will perform.

“As a community, we want to show there is hip-hop going on in the local scene and show that hip-hop culture is different from mainstream rap culture in that this is actually a culture instead of just music to dance to,” said Greg Frazier, senior in LAS and president of the organization.

Michael Frazier, sophomore in LAS who along with brother Greg Frazier are known as the Science Ninja Team, said the title, previously known as “4Ward: Hip-Hop Awareness Week,” was changed to appreciation week to promote the organization’s mission.

“We decided to go with appreciation because that’s really what the organization is about,” Michael said. “It’s about the appreciation of hip-hop culture. 4Ward just meant four events, four days and forward thinking about hip-hop.”

Greg said planning for the events began at the beginning of the school year with an emphasis on fundraising. There were date auctions, performances across campus and a mix-tape created by group members to help pay for the costs of hosting the events, Greg said.

The album titled “Now U-C Us” was released on Feb. 9 and is available through: Urbana-Champaign Hip-Hop Congress members; Exile On Main Street, located at 1 E. Main St.; and the organization’s Web site. The album will be available during appreciation week events. The album features 14 tracks, including the Frazier brothers rapping and producing and Moses with his lines of complex lyrics or what he calls, “nerd rap.” Other group members are featured as producers and MC’s as well.

Moses said the album was a great way to raise money and helped the organization not only put on the events this year, but also exhibited their talent.

“The mix-tape was huge and worked as an excellent fundraiser this year,” Moses said. “It acted as a nice little springboard for some of the lyrical, producing and graphic design talent that we had inside the organization.”

Michael said the fundraising helped make these events possible. He said he hopes the week of events will make people aware that hip-hop is not just what is heard on the radio.

“Hip-hop isn’t all about misogyny and indulgences, there’s a lot of intelligence that goes along with it too,” Michael said. “It can be said that the fifth element of hip-hop is knowledge and that’s what I want people to get from it.”

Moses said along with knowledge of the scene, the organization wants people to realize that the Urbana-Champaign hip-hop scene needs their support to grow. He said contribution is what makes the local scene; otherwise, hip hop will die out.

“Solidarity within this scene alongside collaboration and contribution is what makes a week like this possible,” Moses said. “Displaying this and showing people what we’re made of really shows people that this scene needs to continue to live and flourish, to strive and survive like it’s doing now.”