Hip hop, Spoken Word Club encourage student creativity, self-expression

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Author: Haley Gray

“Always keep your shoulders poppin’.” That’s the one thing Ben Toney (junior) wanted Occidental students to take away from last Thursday’s hiphop workshop. Why is it we need to always do this? Toney didn’t quite say.

What he did do, though, was train the ten or so students who participated in the workshop how to create unique style and content in original hip-hop. Toney is a junior Urban and Environmental Policy major at Occidental who developed a love for hip-hop early on through friends and school. He organized the hip-hop workshops in collaboration with Spoken Word as part of a larger push to create a space for hip-hop on campus.

The workshop is part of a series leading up to a KOXY and Spoken Word co-sponsored performance by Twin Cities MC Kristoff Krane on campus this Saturday. Kristoff will be the first hip-hop artist KOXY has brought to campus this year, according to KOXY organizer Lindsay Palmer (senior). “[Kristoff’s] positive philosophies on love, friends and self-expression drive the message of his music and involvement with his audiences,” Palmer said.

The concert will also feature Occidental student performers from Spoken Word club, including Will Stupp (first-year), Chase Hansen (first-year), Henry Dickmeyer (sophomore), Daphne Auza (sophomore) and Nina Carlin (sophomore), according to Spoken Word representative Sarah Winters (senior).

Throughout the course of the workshop, participants were tasked with specific prompts: tell a story, convey frustration, etc. in a series of breakout sessions. Students worked in near silence on their own short pieces while instrumentals selected by Toney played out in the background. Students then shared their writing with just one partner and eventually were encouraged to share with the group. Particularly well-received pieces were met with laughter and snaps.

“It was really cool to have a chance to have a really intimate setting. It let us really focus on each individual and gave us some more time to really force and push people to share and put their work out, which was nice,” Toney said, as students lingered, chatting after the workshop.

While the student performances throughout the workshop were, at times, prefaced by nervous giggles or hesitance to share, the tone of the event was unfailingly one of mutual respect and encouragement. When a soft-spoken participant joked that she wasn’t on the same level as the rest of the group, one of the more confident students leaned in and shared this nugget of wisdom: “You’re on your level. That’s the only level you need to be on.”

The evening was peppered with unexpected expressions of love and longing, intense frustration and a charming childhood story. Students shared work ranging from a lighthearted tale about slipping and falling outside a dorm to a titillating recount of frustrating encounters with a shy lover. Some made use of the instrumentals to create a rhythm-heavy experience while others preferred to turn the beat off and instead gave expertly quaint, poetic performances.

In the end, the theme of the evening was more so self expression than hip-hop appreciation.

The next hip hop workshop will be Thursday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Fowler 112.

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