On Sunday, the historic Mechanics Hall saw a different kind of performance to a different kind of music. And the venue and the performers gained a new understanding of each other.
Until a few weeks ago, the first meeting of the Worcester Hip-Hop Congress was originally scheduled for the Worcester Youth Center, which has spawned local hip-hop talent in the past, according to Megan Ross, visiting music professor. to college. of the Holy Cross and Clark University. However, when the Youth Center was flooded, she had to send a flare and a friend put her in touch with Kathleen Gagné, the general manager of Mechanics Hall.
During the reunion, the director asked Ross some very basic questions about hip-hop – what was it, what the basics were, and what would that mean for a staged event. on the historic site. For Ross, it was an opportunity for an important dialogue, to dispel long-held stereotypes, to increase community inclusion and to explain that originally hip-hop was a medium for communities. marginalized people from the inner city to be heard, giving them a voice on social issues.
The Hip-Hop Congress, a national movement founded in 1993, is about positive social change through hip-hop, said Ross, who is the Worcester chapter leader. The WHHC, a coalition of teachers, artists and community leaders, was formed earlier this year and hopes to forge links between colleges, the socially conscious hip-hop community and nonprofits in Worcester.
“I want to help create a stronger narrative of hip-hop’s contribution to Worcester culture,” Ross explained. “Artists have actively contributed to positive culture, and there needs to be more emphasis on that. “
The first meeting ended with a dance competition, where members of the local hip-hop community were able to show off their skills. The host of the event was Mr. PSA, who is “a big deal in the hip-hop community,” according to Ross, and was recommended by Worcester’s hip-hop artist Ghost in the Machine, who sits at board of directors.
Mr. PSA was unequivocal: “We’re hip-hop – it’s a way of life, not just something you do, it’s not just something you listen to. “
The participants were 17 teams or crews with budding dancers of all ages. A large circle formed where most people watched the competition. Many spectators would stop periodically to make their own moves, training during their time in the circle, before returning – but also because the energy was contagious.
The competition was divided into three rounds of five “battles” each, with the winning team moving on to the next round. Three judges, Kwikstep, Brian Pistols and Maximus, voted to decide the winner, indicating their pick from the count of three.
One team, 5 Deadly Venoms, was made up mostly of young children – none over the age of 11 at the most – and they won their battle. The big winners of the event were a team called Floor Lords, comprising Alex El Nino Diaz, Alfred Flo Roc Hibbert, Alan A-1 Kuang, Jon Jumpz Martey and Isaiah Arsonal Ramos. Misha “Cachief” Goldy of the Sauce Squad and John “Robinhood” Robbins of Lawtown Assassins took home the Footwork and Originality awards, respectively.
Community expansion is a central goal for Ross and the WHHC, so hosting the event at Mechanic‘s Hall is a big step forward in breaking down misconceptions. Ross felt that this “would send a message to the community that hip-hop is an art. ”
Although still a very nascent organization, having started in January 2021, WHHC is increasing its membership, Ross noted. In addition to the board of directors, they are forming committees to lead new programs and launching a fall internship program, with three college interns for social media, youth education and the hip-hop archive project. live.
“We’re really trying to be intergenerational,” Ross said, especially with education programs like the Nativity School Summer School, a community learning project, with Jafet Muzic.
“Hip-hop is not synonymous with rap,” said Ross, and is only part of it. The mission of the WHHC is to ensure that all elements of hip-hop are fused together. The four main points are MC (rap), graffiti art, DJing and break (dance). At Sunday’s event, the dance competition showcased it all, with local artists, a DJ on stage providing music, contestants’ dance skills, and a graffiti artist’s art award for the winners. .
A central theme of hip-hop is authenticity, that is, “keeping it real” and retaining its identity in the face of external pressure. Ross is encouraged by the response to the event and that makes her optimistic about the prospects for the WHHC.
“It can be a glimpse into racial and social inequalities and society in general. ”
As a music specialist, Ross’s academic work has long been divided between classics and hip-hop. She described the feeling of seeing a DJ on stage and people dancing on the polished wooden floor of Mechanics Hall under the massive chandelier as “worlds colliding”.
Or maybe it’s the birth of a whole new one.