by John Bealle
In several key sites in the Appalachian region, there is a movement rising to develop spoken word arts from urban African American tradition as a means to foster social change, community activism, and personal transformation. The movement taps into the critical force of hip hop to address the issues facing Appalachia today. As hip hop artist Jamie Smith (Beckley, West Virginia) put it, “Everybody wants to get something off their chest about the struggle here.”
In 2016, West Virginia Public Broadcasting did a story titled, “Yes, There is Hip Hop in Appalachia” that outlined some of the accomplishments of this emerging movement. Included in the article was the video “West Virginia Water” by Beatty of Charleston, which calls out the perpetrators of the Elk River Chemical Spill.
In Wheeling, West Virginia, a group called “The Movement” has organized a community that produces the annual Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards. In Whitesburg, “Holler to the Hood” was a human rights project from Appalshop designed around a hip hop radio program that reached the nearby supermax prison. In Lexington, Kentucky, Devine Camara has founded a nonprofit “Believing in Forever” to manage his community and school speaking programs. His song, “The Devil Stole Hip Hop” argues for the enduring activist roots of hip hop. In Portsmouth, Ohio, Drew Carter uses his artistic stature to promote community initiatives there.
UACC CINCINNATI PROGRAMS
Sat Apr 7, 7:30-9:30pm – Urban Appalachian Showcase at the Aronoff Center.
On the occasion of hosting the annual Appalachian Studies Association conference, Cincinnati’s Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (UACC) seeks to connect our young Appalachians with this emerging tradition. However, many families who came to the area during the Great Migration have lost touch with their mountain heritage. Our conference theme, “Restitching the Seams,” addresses the relationship of Cincinnati migrants with their heritage. We are partnering with ArtsWave and with two spoken word organizations to draw out young performers. We are soliciting the help of all of our stewards and supports in identifying young Cincinnati-area Appalachian spoken word performers.
WordPlay Cincy, based in Northside, nurtures young readers and writers from all backgrounds through personal discovery and academic skill-building programs. Program coordinator Desirae Hosley will collaborate with UACC on two workshops. Hosley is a seasoned poetry slam competitor and coaches Wordplay’s “Scribes” in competitions and performances. The workshop tandem seeks to identify and train young Appalachian spoken word artists.
Two FREE workshops, titled “Where We’re From” will be held Saturday, February 17th, 1-3pm and Saturday, February 24th, 2-4pm. The first, presented by Hosley and also Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel, is a writing workshop focusing on family heritage. The second will address spoken word performance. For more information consult the event flyer or contact Hosley at [email protected].
Since its founding in Over-the-Rhine in 2001, Elementz has blossomed into a thriving urban arts center. The mission is to foster hip hop culture as a catalyst for transformation for urban youth. Hip Hop culture embraces music and dance, but also DJ’ing, urban fashion, and visual art such as “graffiti-style” art.
On Thursday, April 5th, UACC and Elementz are collaborating on a program of Appalachian spoken word arts. The feature performer will be Drew Carter of Portsmouth, Ohio, aided by student Appalachian performers from the workshops and outreach programs. Elementz Creative Director Abdullah Powell will host the event.
And on Saturday, April 7th, Desirae Hosley will present young spoken words artists during the Urban Appalachian Showcase at the Aronoff Center.
A native of Portsmouth, Ohio, Drew Carter left home as a youth, living briefly in North Carolina. Leaving the region is a prominent theme in Appalachian life, and it comes with a longing of return, but an awareness that home is place of both comfort and struggle. Carter did return, and set about to craft a life devoted to the betterment of his home place.
His artist bio recounts the journey that led him back to Portsmouth:
Drew Carter is an artist with deep roots in Ohio. Although he spent time away, he returned to the town of his birth, Portsmouth, for high school, about the same time he started rapping. Performing his first show at that age, he’s been going on strong ever since, rapping, singing, making mixtapes and DJing at clubs, which earned him the nickname “Drew Carter the Party Sparker”.
Drew Carter wants to make the world a better place. In college, as the president of the AHANA student club and a member of the International Forum, he helped coordinate a joint effort, Books for Africa, with donations of student textbooks. He heard the call and went to help Habitat for Humanity rebuild houses in New Orleans after Katrina. Drew also traveled to South America in 2005 and 2006, helping homeless families to start earning a living, find housing and register their children for health care and schooling. He graduated from Shawnee State University in the spring of 2007 with a degree in international relations.
Drew Carter is a groundbreaker. Coming together with a diverse crew of local lyricists, he started Fam Click, now one of the most popular underground hip-hop crews in the Tri-State area. His interest in behind-the-scenes work led to the formation of World Sound Entertainment, a concert & party promotions outfit that helped get the underground scene started in southern Ohio. He organized the first rap battle in Portsmouth, was the first urban promoter to start throwing parties in the area, and has performed or run parties at just about every local venue in the Ohio tri-state area.
He describes the challenges that come with these ambitions in his recording “The Intro”:
In 2017, Carter was on a panel of community members that discussed local opoid strategies with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. In Sam Quinones’s book Dreamland, Portsmouth is depicted as the epicenter of the opioid crisis, a place where in 2010 “pill mill” pharmacies dispensed 9.7 million doses of opiates. An account of the presentation excerpted Carter’s address at the event: “I worked in the chemical dependency field for five years,” he said. “I’ve worked with addicts. I’ve known drug dealers many who have been arrested and spent time in prison, but they never had passports and they never owned boats or planes. These are poor people that are getting arrested and going to jail.”
Addressing this seemingly intractable problem, Carter focuses on the integrity of the community. He founded DrewCarterTV YouTube channel which broadcasts Portsmouth City Council meetings and interviews guests on community issues. He operates an urban farm with livestock, fish, laying hens, and a garden—designed to teach self-sufficiency and survival skills to Portsmouth youth. He organizes pizza and game parties for school children and community block parties to promote unity. He has served as an Ohio Field School presenter, hosted by the Center for Folklore Studies at Ohio State University.
Seeing incremental progress gives Carter hope. He describes this in a song that references Sam Cooke’s classic “Change Gonna Come”:
UACC is especially delighted to bring Carter to Cincinnati because he is a cousin of our own Omope Carter Daboiku. This is a happy circumstance, but it is also an important model. Our conference theme, “restitching the seams,” addresses acts such as this: reconnecting with cousins in the region, doing heritage work, recognizing common struggles, and creating alliances and bonds.