In the early 2000s, a group of Cincinnati teens bonded over a love of hip hop and a desire to create change in their community.
Over the years, what began with a plywood recording studio in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has spawned a more formal vehicle for change – Elementz.
Today, the nonprofit with a mantra of “Hip Hop, Respect and Community” gives youth opportunities to find their artistic voice through recording, production, poetry and dance programming. It also connects them to professionals in music and other creative industries.
“At 13, you could be writing lyrics. At 26, you could be writing a marketing campaign,” said Elementz Managing Director Tom Kent. “Yet there are so few minorities in advertising and marketing. One of the reasons is that many of these kids just don’t know anyone in those roles."
To help teens hone skills and prepare for creative careers, U.S. Bank as part of its Community Possible giving platform donated $20,000 for two new recording studios with state-of-the-art production equipment. At a ribbon cutting for the studios last week, youth took center stage.
18-year-old Noah Hawes (pictured above) put on a show and guided community members, including Ohio State Rep. Catherine Ingram, on tours of the space. Hawes, who is two weeks away from releasing his second rap album, graduated high school earlier this summer and aims to work towards a career in music and production.
“Elementz provided me with the means to record,” said Hawes, sitting in one of the new studios. “I went to a class here to learn mixing and producing. And from there the more you use [these tools], the better you get.”
The equipment is not the first time U.S. Bank has supported young musicians. Last year, Milwaukee hip hop artist Genesis Renji won #TourPossible, a competition the bank hosted to bring up-and-coming artists one step closer to the possibility of a music career. Renji, voted a finalist by online voting and named winner by a panel of music industry judges following a live show, used the $20,000 grand prize to grow his label and prepare for an upcoming album.
“[I tell young artists] that this takes work,” said Renji (pictured above) in a podcast interview last year. “If this is something that you want, then discipline and hard work need to become second nature, like breathing, to you. Whether it’s writing, rehearsing, dance routines – whatever it is that you’re doing, you need to be doing it every day.”
Back at Elementz, Hawes, too, sees the importance in giving back by guiding young artists. Those classes he mentioned? These days, he’s the one teaching them.
“It’s really good that Elementz targets the youth,” said Hawes. “A lot of people want to do creative things but they don’t have the means to, and they may get wrapped up in negative activities because of it.”
While leadership within Elementz has changed over the years, anyone stepping in the door sees a mural of the founders and prominent early figures who helped make the center what it is today. And Elementz is as strong as ever, continuing to bring the community together through hip hop.
That was evident at last week’s ribbon cutting when Chestah T, an elder statesman of Queen City beats, stopped by to pass down old stories and dish advice to aspiring artists like Hawes. His message was simple.
“People will buy into your story,” he said. “The music is just a souvenir.”