A Word (or two) from Editor Tess Taylor about J.U.I.C.E. (Justice by Uniting In Creative Energy)
(L-R) Naddi Zschiesche of Stuttgarts Rap Present & Monica X. Delgado of LA's JUICE
So what is a classical music lover like me doing scooting around the grungy outskirts of Korea Town in Los Angeles on a sweltering midnight looking for a hip-hop event? I asked myself this same question, cursing quietly under my breath as I searched for the address on the dimly lit boulevard (why is it that builders insistently and maddeningly refrain from affixing street numbers to buildings?). And I wondered if the police car with flashing lights parked a hundred yards off was responding to a domestic violence call or other explosive incident into which I could get myself entangled. Lovely. But when I got out of my car to investigate on foot to find the venue, the beats I heard in the distance guided me to the right place.
What I found was a Unitarian church transformed into Hip Hop Central, with loads of mostly exuberant young men in their highly fashionable and expertly shredded threads against a backdrop of colorful fresh graffiti murals. I entered just as the young men (and a few courageous young ladies) were in the middle of a high-energy break dancing battle. Whatever you call doing Russian Cossack-style squat-leaps and hurling yourself into the air, landing on your head, striking fantastically complicated poses that seem to require rubber limbs, moving with robotic precision at hyper speeds and suspending the weight of your body in mid-air with your wrists, they were doing it. I was fascinated, these guys are talented. Cirque du Soleil could do with a bit of this.
Intrigued by an announcement I received the day before, Id come to investigate the promise of the press release: German Youth in LA for Hip Hop Exchange. I chuckled, German hip-hoppers? Now that’s amusing, it seems like such an oxymoron. I was interested to see how this music form was being put to work by JUICE (Justice by Uniting In Creative Energy), an LA-based hip-hop focused community center which emerged from work with high-risk youth in shelters, schools and juvenile halls.
Hip-hop seems to have become a universal language, an updated dialect of the rock & roll language with which my generation used to infuriate our parents. But what I saw last night wasn’t a sharp-stick-in-the-eye provocative, it was a group of high-energy teens expressing themselves and having a great time doing it. The atmosphere was uplifting. How much better to have all this youthful energy put into something positive rather than lolling around detention centers and juvenile halls.
From what I can see, the origins of hip-hop have not always been positive but there appears to be a strong upward trend from the underground into the mainstream with messages to organize and uplift communities, to keep kids off the streets and out of gangs, and to speak up about social and political causes. I perceive a much stronger unifying element in hip-hop today than, say, 5 years ago. By whatever means awareness reaches them, it encourages me to see a greater level of it among the younger generation.
JUICE has been selected to participate in a Youth Urban Arts Exchange in Stuttgart, Germany this summer. Fifteen youth from JUICE Los Angeles will visit Stuttgart in August, while fourteen youth urban artists from German hip-hop organization Rap Present are in Los Angeles from July 18-30.
I strongly encourage and promote cultural exchanges like this for children and teenagers at the earliest possible age, and am happy that art has put itself to practical use by being the common denominator here. Having benefited so much from my travels and lived abroad myself for a number of years, I see living and travel abroad as essential to greater global understanding and lessening of international friction. Most Americans (embarrassingly) never get beyond the borders of this fantastic country and their ego-centric attitude often reflects this. We are privileged to live in the greatest, wealthiest country in the world and despite its many problems, America is still the destination of choice for millions of people around the world and has been for decades, even centuries. In our position as a global superpower, we have an obligation to help others so that more people can partake in the wealth and opportunity here. This is only one reason why cultural exchange programs are so important. When you understand how others live and when youve traveled through a third world country where having running water and a flush toilet is a luxury, you can appreciate so much more what you have here in the States.
But I digress. I applaud Monica X. Delgado, Executive Director of JUICE, and Naddi Zschiesche, founder of the Stuttgart-based Rap Present whose efforts made this exchange possible. Says Monica, “The main premise of the exchange goes beyond sharing our two cities. We will create and document an international dialogue around Hip Hop, Youth, Media and Violence as it is perceived and experienced in our countries and communities. We are proud to celebrate and share the diverse talents with like-minded youth in Germany.” The program will include joint workshops, performances and roundtable discussions in both countries facilitated by local scholars and artists. The documented results will be edited into a short documentary and presented at public forums in both Los Angeles and Stuttgart.
Naddi told me that over twelve years ago a similar exchange took place and several German artists went to San Francisco. Twelve years later, she says they are still raving about what a great experience it was for them and how much it changed their lives for the better. The German hip-hoppers here today have fallen in love with Los Angeles and are already plotting their return.
Both organizations JUICE and Rap Present could use your support. As Pablo Picasso said, Everything you can imagine is real. So imagine greater harmony in the world and do something about it today. Start with checking out the Web sites of these two organizations (URLs below). Then drop Monica or Naddi a line. They would love to hear from you. So would I.
Justice by Uniting In Creative Energy (J.U.I.C.E.), a hip-hop focused community center, was founded in 2001 in the Rampart District of Los Angeles. Every Thursday hip-hop heads meet to practice their skills and just kick it with like-minded people. We paint graffiti murals in the community, record and produce music, emcee, DJ, and dance on a large hardwood floor. The concept emerged from work with high-risk youth in shelters, schools, and juvenile hall. JUICE’s vision to sustain a safe and permanent home for youth where the elements of hip-hop are used as a tool for social change, youth empowerment and art education.
Monica X. Delgado
Executive Director of JUICE
Tel: (213) 344-9435
ABOUT RAP PRESENT:
Rap-present is a volunteer-run youth initiative in Stuttgart, Germany whose activities focus on the world of hip-hop. Rap-present comprises nearly 20 youth and young adults, supported by about 10 helpers. Our site www.rap-present.de features a database that allows artists to publicize their services free of charge, and functions as a booking platform. Local groups see their purpose in organizing events and representing the interests of the hip-hop culture towards institutions and other groups from outside the scene. At our monthly Club we support young DJs. A number of events are in the pipeline for 2006, as well the expansion of local groups to the cities Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden, and the countries Serbia and Bosnia.
Christin Naddi Zschiesche
Tel: 0 11 49 711 319 54 38