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By Julia Che

Hip-hop culture has become one of the most distinctive marks of our generation.

Hot beats, dope rhymes and breakers pop-n’-lockin’ make the urban lifestyle “ghetto-fabulous.” But in close association with hip hop culture are the pimps, hoes, gangstas and hustlas.

Although the concepts of gang violence, drugs, and sexploitation predate hip-hop culture, they’ve inevitably been linked to the lifestyle, giving urban culture a bad name.

This past weekend, high school students and Ryerson, York, and University of Toronto students gathered to discuss how to create positive social change through the globalizing effects of hip-hop culture.

Held at U of T, International Music Day hosted two panel seminars, open discussions and a live music performance.

Celebrated all over the world since Oct. 1, 1975, International Music Day was founded by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, then president of the International Music Council. It aims to encourage peace and friendship between people of various cultures. Coordinated by I.C. Visions Project, North America’s first government-funded hip-hop rec centre, International Music Day looks to amend the destructive hip-hop stereotype by empowering youth and uniting fragmented communities.

Gavin Sheppard, founder of I.C. Visions, says hip-hop is a useful mechanism to foster youth engagement.

“The purpose of this event is to celebrate the globalization of hip-hop, meaning the spread of the culture from its humble beginnings in the South Bronx of New York to the hearts and souls of young people across the globe,” said Sheppard. “With the United Nations’ recent acknowledgement that hip-hop is becoming the most popular form of expression of urban youth worldwide, it proves this is a social movement that represents a strong political statement.”

Among the panelists was educator and former label executive Will Strickland, creator and professor of the first-ever course on hip-hop culture at the University of Massachusetts.

This professor has his ear to the streets, demanding students to ask valid questions such as, “are these rappers real politics or real polished tricks?…Are you keeping it real or keeping it right? …[And] a commitment to community, not a commitment to currency.” In addition to the panelists, Toronto artists Rikoshay, Drex, and Zaki put on The Barbershop Show, a live performance of hip-hop joints and soulful vibes with positive social messages.

With Strickland playing the barber, the ‘edutainment’ was a hit with students. The innovative concept of edutainment is the union between education and entertainment.

Toronto emcee Drex said the vibes were flowing between audience and performers. “Not only was this event educational and entertaining for the youth, but it was also an opportunity for all the panelists and artists to give back to a culture which has given so much to us,” said Drex.

“The live music component furthered the air of authenticity and increased the incentive for youth to attend lectures,” added Sheppard.

Mark, an 18-year-old student from Lincoln Alexander High School felt privileged to attend. “It gave out a positive message towards everyone in the room.” As an aspiring emcee he states, “They make me feel like I could be doing something like that. It’s totally different than what you see on TV.” A friend of Mark added, “it was hype! We always only see the violence and stuff. Here, we got to see the positive sides of hip-hop.”

The government is also taking notice of hip-hop culture as a useful mechanism for grassroots organizations to educate young people and promote social change.

“The effectiveness of I.C. Visions and like-minded grassroots programs lies in the fact that we are engaging the community through the means most natural to us, and that’s using hip-hop,” says Sheppard. “That’s how we grew up, that’s who we are and that’s why the young people listen. We remix’ social thought.”

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