How five high school rappers end up in your iTunes library
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Having a dream when you’re in high school always means having to realize that the prescribed course of direction for your life may not fall in line with public education’s guidance: The Kollective, a group of hungry, young rappers from Greensboro, North Carolina, has their eyes set on a goal, and it’s achievable.
“We are just focused on the Kickstarter right now, and this mixtape we gonna drop, whether or not we get the money,” said Jeak Rivers, 16, one of the emcees in the Kollective.
The Kollective started a Kickstarter project in November to help with the initial costs of recording and releasing a full-length feature album. The goal for the project is set at $4,000, and with 22 days to go, the group is already 25 percent of the way there.
The Kollective consists of five young men from Greensboro; Amari Juwon, Jeak Rivers, Alpha Signature, Chris Capture, and Dolo Fresh, whose paths happened to cross thanks to the art of rapping. Knowing of each other through various threads within the community and school, each member comes from a storied background, although all roads have led to each of them telling their story through verse and rhyme.
By way of Yonkers, New York, Amari “Amari Juwon” Parnell moved to North Carolina in 2005. “(My mom) had me when she was 16, and I moved here when I was eight…she was 24, she was young, still out there fightin’ and stuff, so my grandma made us move down here,” he said. With drawl-like flow, Amari Juwon recalled growing up listening to Kanye West and trying to mimic the style of the Chicago-bred artist. However, that didn’t work for him, and he’s since adopted a silky flow, where vocal inflections are deliberate to emphasize the importance of words, imagery, and his overall message.
“Me and Chris used to freestyle in Mr. Bustos’ class,” Jeak Rivers remembered.
Juwan “Jeak Rivers” Taylor is from the Bronx, New York’s northernmost of the five boroughs. At 16, he’s already fulfilled his credits for Dudley High School, where all members of the Kollective currently attend, and is working towards college credits thanks to North Carolina’s early college initiative. He regarded 2013 as being a hard year – fodder for his lyrics as a budding rapper – in that he moved up to New York, briefly, and upon realizing that the support system his family hoped would be there, wasn’t there, moved back to Greensboro to live with his sister’s grandmother. Like Amari Juwon, Jeak River’s lyricism has a hint of smooth to it, but the real delight is in the wordplay and visuals he traces within his bars.
Chris “Chris Capture” Hicks, 17, sees the reality in what they are trying to do as a group of musicians. “When you hear all these conscious rappers, they all sound the same, but that’s my way of mixing it up… I guess I’m tryin’ to rap about the obstacles in my life, not to sound too cliché, but I’m trying to add some interesting stuff in it.” Chris Capture recognized Emimen, “Slim Shady era,” as an influence, most noticeable in the precise phonetic pronunciations he delivers when rapping.
Waleed “Alpha Signature” Muhammed, 17, remains the quiet one of the group – the watcher – but this adept social persona is quickly contradicted when his commanding baritone takes over the microphone. “My momma used to be a rapper when she was my age, and she used to be a gangsta rapper, and sort of got in some trouble, so I kind of grew up listening to Nas and stuff like that.” Alpha Signature also related how he was in drama club back in middle school, but has since left the idea of being actor to pursue new ventures in the rap world.
Donovan “Dolo Fresh” Eliab, could not be reached for comment, but it was made very clear that his involvement with The Kollective is of the utmost importance: Beat and track production. Rappers can rap all day, but if the beat isn’t there, it’s an a cappella party.
As a whole, the group has the charisma of any young, hungry band seeking to gain fame. In close quarters, though, their intimacy and dedication to honing their craft is obvious, as is their fervor in gaining organic community support.
To start, Jeak Rivers admitted that the Kickstarter campaign came about simply because he saw another rapper post on Twitter about his own campaign.
Amari Juwon opened up about how his dream to pursue rapping wasn’t solidified until his stepfather busted him writing raps late one night in his bedroom and encouraged it. Support was something he felt was lacking in his home.
Alpha Signature’s path to music came in the form of him trying to carve his own trail – to break the confines of the mold he felt was being established in his home.
And Chris Capture, aside from dealing with abuse at a young age, has already lived enough to fill a dozen notebooks, which in turn gets translated to his raps.
The question remains, though, as to whether or not their passion for a dream can be subsidized by anonymous donors from the Internet.
Crowd-funding has gained steady popularity in the music industry in recent years. With album sales tanking for artists, and online presence handling the lion’s share of artist publicity, websites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.
com have become a valuable source for independent musicians. It places the investment in the hands of the consumer, who shows support for the initiative or project by donating or “backing” with monetary donations.
For the Kollective, a group of 16 and 17 year olds who come from Dudley High School, it’s the means to a beginning; The beginning of a career that hasn’t been laid out for them in the high school setting; The beginning of a life outside of the typical path designated for young black men in America; The beginning of something that validates their dreams, rather than shooting them down.
Their peers at Dudley High School are somewhat aware of their artist status, but that light didn’t shine as bright until they released the Kickstarter video onto the world. Now, students come up to them to ask about rapping, performing, and if they might like to freestyle a few bars between classes.
“Some know because we dropped this video, but everybody else? I don’t feel like hearing nothing. I don’t care, but I don’t feel like hearing the hate,” said Amari Juwon. !
To support The Kollective’s efforts, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1131275281/kollectivejust-some-teenage-rappers, or simply search “Kollective” on Kickstarter.com’s main page. Follow each artist on twitter: @ALPHVS_ (Alpha Signature,) @JeakRivers (Jeak Rivers,) @HoveThePrince (Amari Juwon,) @PizzaKILLS (Chris Capture,) and @FigxGolden (Dolo Fresh.)