Lansing nonprofit connects generations through hip-hop

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Jonathan Brown, 19, sings at the All of the Above Hip Hop Academy event “Dolla 4 Dolla” on Oct. 9.

Marah Deary

Jonathan Brown, 19, sings at the All of the Above Hip Hop Academy event “Dolla 4 Dolla” on Oct. 9. The event raised money for the organization, which provides mentoring to young people.

A DJ stands over his equipment, hip-hop music blaring through his speakers. Three kids have dance-off on a mat spread across the pavement. Hot dogs are sizzling on a grill, as people of all ages gather.

This is what All of the Above Hip Hop Academy is about — coming together.

The Lansing-based nonprofit organization is run by artists and educators who mentor youth and use hip-hop as a cultural resource to aid youth development. The organization provides a variety of classes, workshops and performance-oriented experiences. 

Executive Director Ozay Moore, 39, has been involved in hip-hop for more than 20 years. 

“I started AOTA because I realized that there was a stark gap between generations in hip-hop,” Moore said. “You had the younger folks who didn’t understand the older folks and the older folks who didn’t understand the younger folks, and instead of working to figure out how to add value to the youth context and the elder context it was more like, ‘You aren’t doing it right’ and, ‘Well, you are doing it too old.’”

Moore said it’s a problem when elders and youth don’t keep a connection.

 “At some point in time culture gets lost and the reason that we do all this can get forgotten,” Moore said.

The group helps bring those two generations together.

“So it has ended up being this reciprocal scenario where we are teaching context and history, but the youth is keeping us up on where it’s going,” he said. “And, when we bridge that gap, we all benefit and our community is stronger.”

Joseph Mole, 45, is the board treasurer for the academy. He said all ages and backgrounds of people work together, creating a sense of community for young people.

“I think it’s very important to have Black-led organizations and AOTA is that,” Mole said. “It’s also important to have role models that look like them and I believe in the leadership.”

The academy teaches young people about more than hip-hop, said local musician James Gardin, 36, a program instructor at All of the Above.

“AOTA allows students to create a community while learning skills that work outside of music,” Gardin said.

Jonathan Brown, 19, is a student at the academy. Brown works closely with the academy to pursue his music career.

“Before AOTA, I had no confidence in my music,” Brown said. “But the instructors at AOTA are so motivational and great at building up my confidence.”

From 2019 to 2020, All of the Above Hip Hop Academy has served 109 students. Devin Jones, 15, attends the academy. He’s a rap lyricist.

“I started out with GarageBand making fart beats,” Jones said. “Now I am in the AOTA B.A.R.S. class (Beats and Rhymes Sessions) and things are different now.” 

All of the Above Hip Hop Academy became a nonprofit organization in 2017. The group holds a variety of events throughout the year. “Beats and Brewers” is every Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Blue Owl Coffee Co. in South Lansing. At “Beats and Brewers” there is a live DJ experience with participants of the academy.

“We take a space, add flavor and creativity and we put it in the air and draw people together and then we build with each other organically,” Moore, the executive director, said. “We tend to have a hard time with volunteers because they aren’t sure how to get involved and we say to just come out and hang out with us and we’ll find out.”

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