Monday, January 29, 2018

Black boys and audio production

High school student participating in DH after-school program

Until I started receiving guidance from my younger brother Kenton about his experiences studying and teaching rap courses, I hadn't paid close enough attention to producers in rap. I teach rap courses too, but my training in literary studies and my background in poetry perhaps led me to privilege the lyrics and downplay production. Thankfully, with Kenton's nudging, my considerations of production began evolving.

Back in the day, when I would meet with collegiate black men and black boys at the high school where I volunteer, I would ask "how many of you write raps?" Some hands would go up here and there. Now, I ask an additional question: "how many of you produce music and beats?" That question creates new openings and is ultimately more inclusive of the diverse artistic practices of the guys.

Since last fall, I've been working with East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club -- an after-school program for high school students that raises awareness concerning technology. We've been primarily working with audio production. I present recordings of African American poets reading their works, and participating high school students create mixes featuring the poems and poem excerpts using beats and special effects.

High school student editing audio

The core participants are black boys, and on some occasions a black girl attends as well. Only one of the boys considers himself a rapper, but now all of the guys have been inclined to view themselves as kinds of producers or audio designers. As students in a conventional classroom, the boys might receive assignments to produce written responses to poems, but in this after-school program, they respond to or really contribute to and rework lines of poetry through audio compositions.

Moving forward, it'll be interesting to see how the identities of "producer" and "audio designer" complements how these black boys view themselves and their technological capabilities. Further, given the small number of women as producers in the recording industry, I hope we can support our black girl participant and encourage others to become involved.

The East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club Spring 2018

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