When Ben Brubaker moved to New Orleans five years ago, he didn't expect to become a driving force in New Orleans' vibrant rap scene. But his love of hip-hop intersected with an interest in community organizing in a class project that turned into something more. The Tulane University senior found himself with a new niche and a new passion.
"As an outsider, I'm definitely not the be-all and end-all of New Orleans hip-hop," Brubaker says. "I grew up in Philly. But I feel like maybe I have a knack and a passion for helping bring people together."
Hip-Hop for Hope began as a project for a sophomore class in African-American Diaspora Studies at Tulane. Brubaker and his classmates enlisted their favorite local hip-hop artists for a benefit show at Tipitina's, which drew more than 600 people and raised $5,500 for the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School. Since then, Brubaker parlayed his interest into several more benefits and showcases for New Orleans hip-hop artists like Jimi Clever and J-Dubble. He's spoken on hip-hop-focused panels at Loyola University and at Q-93 FM host Wild Wayne's monthly networking event, Industry Influence. Recently, he completed a stint as a Southeastern regional student manager for Atlantic Records' Urban College Network, a post he passed on to another Hip-Hop for Hope volunteer.
In its first iterations, the event focused on political hip-hop MCs like Truth Universal, whose rhymes have a socially conscious bent. This year, Brubaker is pleased to have brought more mainstream local rappers on board, like the dancefloor filler Cupid and the Young Money Records signee Dizzy aka Raw D.I., who headlines Saturday's show. He surmises that since Hip-Hop for Hope began reaching out to street rappers, more artists have included positive lyrics in the songs they perform publicly.
"I've talked to a lot of artists who are out on the corner selling mixtapes, and I'll say, spit me a verse," he says. Often, they'll rhyme about standard topics cars, guns, sex and money. "And then I'll say, "No, really say something to me." And a lot of them do they'll have deep, personal lyrics that they don't put out because there's not a market for it."
Dizzy, a rapper who Brubaker says "resonates with the street," may be a case in point. Last year, he had a club hit with the dance track 'Myspace (Work Ya Elbows)." Recently, he put out a new, politically charged single, "Change," that Brubaker thinks could help create a bridge between the intellectual, socially conscious lyricists and the hood. "We can't preach to the choir all day," Brubaker says.
This event, which benefits Upward Bound (a tutoring program for high school students) will be Hip-Hop for Hope's last as a student group, Brubaker says. He is finishing the paperwork to make it a 501(c)3 nonprofit, putting together a board of directors, and he has hired a grant writer. Though several music-oriented nonprofits have either emerged or expanded since Hurricane Katrina, Hip-Hop for Hope will be the first to focus solely on hip-hop. Brubaker plans to continue to build the group's ongoing relationships with Tipitina's, the variety TV show 2-cent, the recording Academy's Grammy University Network and local Internet radio stations like Big Boot Radio and Loyola University's Crescent City Radio. In his dreams, Brubaker says, Hip-Hop for Hope's flagship event will grow into a larger festival, possibly on multiple stages in a setting like Congo Square or City Park, with a budget to support acts like Talib Kweli or Common as well as local artists.
"We'd like to give national artists the chance to invest in New Orleans," he says, adding that as well as financial investment, he'd like to see the rappers local and national visit local schools and offer a positive message to students. He also hopes to see the organization's reach extend beyond Louisiana, by touring with affiliated artists, reaching out to similar groups and helping start new ones.
"It would be great for New Orleans to be the birthplace of this model," he says. "Because we are usually on the bottom end of things, so [New Orleans] would be a great place to start."
Concert admission includes a copy of the 2008 Hip-Hop for Hope mixtape, co-hosted by DJ Raj Smoove and DJ Miles Felix, and featuring Raw Dizzy, Lil Wayne, Cupid, the Rebirth Brass Band, Dee-1, Truth Universal and others.
- MC Raw Dizzy headlines Hip-Hop for Hope.