Hip-hop 101: Bronx students get schooled in the music’s culture, career possibilities

Yvonne H. Chow from the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory performs Friday at C.S. 55 in the Bronx, which is getting a recording studio and hip-hop educational program. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

A recording studio is coming to C.S. 55 in Morrisania, where hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz will teach an educational program.

Yvonne H. Chow from the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory performs Friday at C.S. 55 in the Bronx, which is getting a recording studio and hip-hop educational program.
Yvonne H. Chow from the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory performs Friday at C.S. 55 in the Bronx, which is getting a recording studio and hip-hop educational program. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

A cafeteria in the basement of a Bronx elementary school will soon be transformed into a recording studio — with some help from hip-hop icon Grandmaster Caz.

C.S. 55 in Morrisania is teaming up with Windows of Hip Hop, a nonprofit that promotes education through and about hip-hop, and underwriter Bulova to bring the recording studio to the school. And Grandmaster Caz— one of the nonprofit’s educational board members — will help teach a hip-hop educational program for second- and third-graders this summer before construction kicks off in the fall, principal Luis Torres said.

At the program’s launch event on Friday, the artist — known as one of the pioneers of hip-hop — took to the school auditorium stage to walk a group of star-struck, enthusiastic C.S. 55 students through the four “foundational elements” that make up the culture of hip-hop: music, art, dance and spoken word.

Students were also treated to a rendition of Estelle’s “American Boy,” performed by former “The Voice” contestant Wé Ani McDonald, and performances by three break-dancers.

Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz will teach a musical education program for C.S. 55 students this summer.
Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz will teach a musical education program for C.S. 55 students this summer. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Three C.S. 55 students, meanwhile, got to showcase their own hip-hop skills. Grandmaster Caz gave the students caps and track jackets to wear and DJ’d during their performances.

“Keeping kids busy, keeping kids interested in things that are going to keep them out of trouble, I think is a major, major tenet of what this school is about,” said Michael Benavente, the U.S. managing director at Bulova. “It’s not in the easiest neighborhood to live in and so giving kids other activities to get involved in that are positive is really what Principal Torres is trying to create.” 

The recording studio and educational initiative is an outgrowth of the principal’s desire to provide students with a “culturally relevant curriculum,” he told amNewYork.

“Hip-hop shapes a lot of what they do every day,” Torres said. “The hope is that we can make it at the level where the children feel like they’re in a professional recording studio.”

“We want to make sure that they’re connecting in the right ways, because hip-hop could also have a negative influence,” he added. “We want to bring the positive out of hip-hop.”

That includes possible career opportunities, too. Melissa Libran, Windows of Hip Hop president and CEO, said, “Many people in the community are DJs, are dancers, are rhymers, but we wanted to expand on that and help [students] understand hip-hop careers — like the producer, the engineer the promoter — and invigorate the entrepreneurial spirit. It inspires them to look within the culture for employment in the future.”

In an interview after the launch, Grandmaster Caz described working with the students as “an honor.”

Grandmaster Caz is joined by Principal Luis E. Torres, who wanted to bring a "culturally relevant curriculum" to the school.
Grandmaster Caz is joined by Principal Luis E. Torres, who wanted to bring a "culturally relevant curriculum" to the school. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

“Hip hop has the world’s ears, eyes and attention right now, so it’s good to catch [students] when they’re young… and give them those values, those skills and those lessons that come with hip-hop,” he said.

“I went through the public school system and the Catholic school system in the Bronx. I know what I got out of it, and I know what should be added to it to enrich the next generation,” he said.

“It’s very important that I be here to lend whatever support and knowledge that I have of the culture and spread that out to the youth,” he added. “And have some fun with them, as well.”

Maya Rajamani