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Frank Hamilton Is Rap Folk? (146* d) Is Rap Folk? 21 Oct 99

Hi Gang,

Got an interesting post from Ari Frede at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Thoughts?

This was a really nice thing that happened. It's on their website Wednesday, but I don't know if it'll last.,2669,SAV-9910200106,FF.html

We graduated fine. Tisa did an AMAZING rhyme that I never get tired of hearing. I, Mr. Memory, forgot half my lines, choked, and handed her the mic. (For Marta, what you missed was: "So stuck up in traffic while the trains pass you by your car is your coke but you never ask why the rain's pouring in through that hole that you left in the ozone, Bozo, so better find another way to punch in downtown than making me breathe through your funnycar, clown It's not poliTICal correctness that makes my lungs tickle, breathless, and Tisa, her Royal Nextness, will ride the rhyme to its nexus.") But I regained my status when we freestyled -- Tisa thinks we have opposite talents; what she has in writing, I've got in fredestyling. I think it's a good article, especially considering it's the Trib and how small we thought the piece would be. If nothing else, I count this article as a professional victory and as evidence that I CAN SO use my job to work against racism.

Chicago Tribune Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Tempo Section, front page.


By Monica Eng Tribune Staff Writer October 20, 1999

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon and three white students sit around their African-American teacher in a small sunny room at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

A loping, atmospheric beat is streaming out of the boom box in the corner. They bob their heads and tap their feet as they spill words onto

the pages of their rhyme books.

It's a generally laid-back room, but this exercise creates a certain Final Jeopardy-like tension as the students compose a rhyme against the ticking clock of music.

As the beat winds down, the slim, coffee-dreadlocked teacher, who goes by the single name Anacron, asks, "Is everybody cool?" They indicate that they are ready to go.

The beat kicks in again. Fifteen-year-old Jonah "J4Play" Bondurant begins the rhyme circle with his composition, which starts: "Watch me penetrate the senses . . . chemical imbalances . . ." His rap style rides the beat with complicated cadences and a slight gangsta accent.

Wrapping up his rhyme by repeating the last line, the lanky Lane Tech junior kicks it to Anacron, who begins, "This week's topic is performing live/Including the nutritional facts without the excess jive/To survive on the stage is an astounding feat in itself/You must be live to engage a pounding beat upon the shelf. . . ." He seems totally at ease with the form, moving his head from side to side with the beat.

Next up is Tisa "The Tisanator" Batcheldi, who wears combat boots, leggings, a dress and a sweater. Her pigtails make her look like Mary Ann from "Gilligan's Island." She raps softly in a smooth stream and then hands the invisible mike to Cece, a day trader/aspiring singer/songwriter. Cece "Shimmy" Page, a blond in conservative dress, improvises an intro to her rhythmic rap, explaining that she wants to join the class so that she can add some texture to a folk-rock Christmas album she is making. She winds down the rhyme, and the whole group smiles and relaxes.

Anacron commends them all on a job well done.

"Do you write for Master P or something?" he asks Cece, who credits her poetry writing for her facility with rhymes.

If a formal class based around rap sounds unusual, that's because it is. The Old Town School even conjectures that it may be the first of its kind. But if administrators at the school have anything to say about it, it won't be the last. It's just one part of the school's push to expand notions of folk music and update its offerings with more urban arts and contemporary styles.

"That has been the mission of a lot of people here, but there haven't been many contacts with contemporary urban folk practitioners," says Old Town adult program associate and rap student Ari "Just" Frede. "I interviewed Boogie (Laurisa) McClaren (earlier this year) for the hip-hop dance class, and she started teaching right away and her class ran with unprecedented success." McClaren is a dance teacher with a new but loyal following at the school.

When Frede was looking for a rap and break-dancing teacher, McClaren introduced him to Anacron. The 23-year-old underground rapper moved here from Los Angeles four years ago and has been rapping, producing, bartending and poetry slamming ever since.

Some may have a hard time thinking of rap (which is about 25 years old) as folk music, but Anacron thinks it's about as folkie as music gets.

"I think that folk music is something that goes along with any group of people who have been established as a culture," says Anacron, who has been studying music since he was a child. "But to this day most folk music has only been looked at in terms of white and European culture. But really it's any kind of music that is created from the heart and soul and is practiced by a large group of people from the same background."

For the most part that "background" has been the African-American urban experience. So does he find it all strange that he is teaching the class to white students?

"I don't think it's strange at all because I feel like a lot of people are interested in hip-hop because it is something they don't know about," Anacron says. "They are interested in learning what is behind rap music and what is behind the lyrics, what people are feeling and what's going on. I can't make anybody a rapper. You just can't do that. I would rather have people go through the eight weeks and come out with a better understanding of what hip-hop as a whole is and a specific understanding of what rap is about, but I'm not trying to make anybody into a star. I think hip-hop has too many rappers as it is anyway."

Although he stresses the music-appreciation aspect of the class, Anacron, who says he calls himself by that name because "I'm very anachronistic," offers plenty of practical tips to his students as well. As a teaching aid for a lecture on live performance, he recently showed a clip from the movie "Wild Style." It featured a duo called the 5 Footers, who were charging up a tough audience with the following traditional chant: "Throw Your Hands in the air/Come on and wave 'em like you just don't care/I said hey oh/Oh oh oh."

"Now that is a classic way to engage an audience," Anacron says, pointing to the video. "People are still doing it today and it works. And you see that audience? It's full of thugs who are too hard to smile at their mama, and they're waving their hands in the air."

Although students such as Page and Bondurant can see themselves possibly recording a rap down the line, others such as Batcheldi see it as a way to get to know the music better and to help with writing.

"I joined because rap is such a fascinating art form and hip-hop is so current," says Batcheldi, a 30-year-old Ravenswood resident who is also an Old Town School employee. "I liked it because the focus was on words which I love, and it was a way to get back into writing regularly and playing with ideas."

Frede enjoys the way it brings together the oral and written traditions of learning that New York City rap scholar Tricia Rose writes were essential to the creation of the genre in her book "Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America."

"Anacron uses written traditions at the beginning of class where we sit down and freewrite for a while and then at the end where you have to freestyle and rap spontaneously, which is very difficult for someone who doesn't come from that tradition," says Frede.

"So having both of those things in one class is what Tricia Rose was trying to say was so essential: You have to have a culture where people are learning in both of those cultures and that didn't happen when slavery was keeping African-Americans from having access to the written word, and it didn't happen when white people were so separated from cultures that were learning with an oral tradition. What (Anacron) is doing is trying to build the skills that you need to be able to practice rap within both of those traditions, which is how it exists in the real world."

In life outside the classroom as a rapper and hip-hop producer, Anacron sees a big dichotomy between the underground rap world and the commercial rap world.

"That's probably one of the hugest separations in rap today," says Anacron, who tends bar and co-hosts poetry readings at Wicker Park's Mad Bar. "But I think that both are good for hip-hop and they both contribute to hip-hop and take from hip-hop in their own ways. But the commercial rappers will say, `Oh, underground, they're all broke and I'm trying to earn money.' Then the underground rappers will say, `I'm doing this because I love the music and if you are mainstream and you're signed you're not real, you don't love hip-hop.' But that's all extraneous. It's about the music."

Despite his diplomatic postion on the situation, Anacron is firmly planted in the underground world of rap, which he says is "huge" and mostly patronized by white upper-class kids. When he is not writing beats at home, the Los Angeles-raised artist is traveling around to produce for "cats in Europe, the West Coast and the South." Chicago, where he decided to make his home four years ago, "is where I usually lie low."

Although you probably won't find a lot of underground recordings in record stores, Anacron recommends for a large selection from the genre.

Rap and hip hop dance classes have now been added to the school's permanent repertoire and will be offered indefinitely while there are students. Next spring, Old Town will continue its exploration of the urban contemporary genre with break dancing and deejay workshops.

Those who want to see what eight weeks of studying rap can do for a group of white hip-hop neophytes can check out the crew's graduation recital at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the main auditorium of the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4536 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-728-6000.

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