Since its inception five years ago at East Lansing’s Edgewood Village, All of the Above Hip Hop Academy, AOTA, has been working to mentor young creatives, cultivate a strong, artistic community and foster a positive hip hop culture within the East Lansing and Lansing areas.
AOTA provides local teens with opportunities to take free classes in lyric writing, producing music, Bboying and even graffiti art. All classes are taught by industry veterans, including program founder Ozay Moore, formerly a successful hip hop recording artist.
Moore argues participation in classes can provide students a platform to discuss the world around them with mentors who can share insight on relatable life experiences, which is important in the fight to defeat negative hip hop stereotypes.
“If elders in hip hop, or people who understand the culture and technique and the aspects of it, don’t see the opportunities to mentor youth… we’re doing our culture a disservice. [hip hop elders should] seek opportunities for mentoring and having critical conversations about society and our community.”
Carl Bowers, a recent MSU graduate, is one of the hip hop elders mentoring local youth alongside Moore. Bowers teaches Bboying, an art more commonly known as breakdancing.
Bowers said he used breakdancing to help him learn more about himself and gain personal confidence as he grew up, and naturally was drawn to the opportunity AOTO offered to share that confidence with a younger generation.
“[Hip hop] is something of empowerment,” Bowers also aims to defeat negativity associated with the industry. “It’s not about girls or money.”
At AOTA, students learn applicable skills that transcend hip hop and reach into everyday life.
“Students can transfer emcee skills to public speaking, graffiti art can transfer to graphic design and breakdancing can help students think on their feet,” Bowers said.
Bowers, Moore and all the AOTA instructors unanimously agree the program is beneficial to East Lansing and Lansing youth, but the program has struggled to reach a large population of youth. Moore said in the last five years, about 50 students have embraced the program.
Despite low numbers, instructors have seen positive feedback and remain hopeful. AOTA has moved its home base to Lansing’s Oak Park YMCA, and since the move from Edgewood Village, the YMCA has become AOTA’s main financial support, providing not only space for class, but financial compensation for teachers.
For the most part, however, instructors provide all materials for their students.
“We utilize our whole resources, so when you come to the table you utilize your expertise,” Moore said.
Despite minimal funding, AOTA instructors have not shied away from providing for their students. In fact, the program has garnered attention from passionate individuals willing to donate their time and expertise.
One such individual is Tim Chon, an MSU sophomore and Bboy. Chon first discovered AOTA because of his involvement with the MSU breakdance club and immediately wanted to get involved.
Though he’s not an instructor, Chon enjoys participating in AOTA events and volunteering with the group when possible.
Bboying, or breakdancing, was a family tradition for Chon and, similar to Bowers, breakdancing helped Chon develop his personal identity.
“I love it more and more so I look for ways to spread it into my community,” Chon said.
As Chon, Moore and Bowers reflect, hip hop is about coming from nothing and finding strength and community in the music, which remains the core of AOTA classes.
“It’s about ‘I had nothing and now I have hip hop.’ It’s a global culture because of what it stands for,” Bowers said.
That sort of attitude explains the unceasing optimism of Moore, despite a standstill in growth and funding for AOTA. He will continue to consider it a success as long as an empowering community of hip hop continues to take root in and around Lansing.
“We want to stimulate arts in Lansing by working with youth so they can take ownership of the arts in the community,” Moore said.
“Lansing was the perfect-imperfect place to do this. We had a lot of work to do to start it, but it’s been embraced really well.”
For more information about All of the Above Hip Hop Academy or Artist Collective, visit their website.