Three years of urban arts collaboration reached fruition Oct. 14-15, as the Regional Academic and Cultural Collaborative returned to Dayton.
“The goal was to collaborate and present, or pay homage almost, to the culture of urban creative arts and hip-hop,” said Sierra Leone, local poet and producer of the conference.
Leone said organizers signed on for a three year commitment to the community to present national and international celebrities, as well as entertainment executives.
“For us that was a huge highlight,” she said. “Actually following through and completing the project was really major.”
The audience was mostly a younger crowd, Leone said. Some people from Columbus came down, and many attendees were local college students and community members.
Leone said the performance by Januarie York, a spoken word artist from Indianapolis, and the talk by Black Thought, of the hip-hop/neo-soul band The Roots, were highlights of the event.
“She [Januarie York] wasn’t really publicized for being a part of the actual collaboration,” Leone said. “People really raved about her performance and the way she preformed and how she
interacted with the audience.”
Black Thought delivered an inspiring and moving talked, Leone said.
“On top of having a family, on top of being on TV every night, on top of having to get right off work and get to Dayton,” she said, “he came here with us and spent an evening with us. And spoke to a topic that he loves, but is extremely difficult to do. I thought that was very commendable.”
Leone said, aside from coming and speaking, Black Thought brought in T-shirts and pamphlets promoting that topic he spoke of, his grassroots movement in Philadelphia that supports the
betterment of the lives of young girls and ensuring that they have the best possible futures.
She believes Black Thought’s talk was moving because it showed him as a person, not just a Grammy Award winning celebrity. And it gave the audience, especially the younger crowd, an
opportunity to realize that the music is just one piece of the iceberg.
“They don’t realize and understand that the album their buying is just one piece of a whole,” she said. “And in turn, I think just seeing an artist like Black Thought come and say ‘You know, I’m
just as ordinary as you are. And in turn, there are some things I’m not great at. And standing up here and speaking in this form that’s not as artistic can be challenging and I had to work at it.’ Young people hearing and understanding that is great.”
She said having that humbleness and seeing Black Thought in a different light gave the event a much more real and tangible quality to it.
“It really is about understanding who people are at their core and what they believe in and what
inspire them,” Leone said.
It’s this understanding of who people are that DJ Swig believes makes the best hip-hop.
“Everything is changing to pop right now,” Swig said about hip-hop as a whole. “I mean the kids love it and you got to go with what sells. You got to stay hot. If you really think about it, back in
the days of KRS-1, Grandmaster Flash and LL Cool J, they were telling you about what was in their neighborhood.”
“Now the money is involved, and now the whole thing is based on money,” Swig said. “If singing in skinny jeans is going to make me money, that’s what I’m going to do. In all reality,
like what rappers back in the day used to wear skinny jeans. That wasn’t even cool. Now skinny jeans is the fad, because that’s what’s making them money.”
Swig said there’s still some rappers out there that really give you that true hip-hop sound, like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common and Lupe Fiasco. The latter two gave key-note speeches and
performances in the previous two urban arts conferences, according to Leone.
“You got to be true to yourself,” Swig said. “I use Mos Def and Common because they tell you what’s going on in the world and that’s what people want to hear.”
He said most rappers aren’t true to themselves anymore.
“They don’t use the stories of their life,” Swig said. “Their using the story of someone else’s life because that’s what sells money. That’s why when you hear a song on the radio it sounds like the song that just came off, like the one they just played.”
Though the hip-hop scene as a whole is turning toward pop, Swig said he thinks the local scene has stayed true. He thinks the scene is taking over.
“I really think you’re going to start hearing more artists from Dayton getting signed, hear about more artists getting distribution deals,” Swig said. “I think the local scene is strong. Believe it
or not, I hear more about local rappers in Dayton then I do anywhere else. Every time I hear something turns out they’re from Dayton. I’m pumped because I really think Dayton[hip-hop scene] is going in the right direction, if they stay together as a community, as a whole.”
This was DJ Swig’s first year participating in the Urban Arts Conference.
“For them to bring people down here to teach you about the actual hip-hop game, and what to do, what not to do, how to win and how not to win, I give them mad props for that because people
don’t get that anywhere else,” Swig said.
DJ Swig said once people realize all the music that came out of Dayton and the surrounding area, they will begin to appreciate the deep roots in the area and understand how the local hip-hop
“Dayton was huge for music back in the day,” DJ Swig said.
Judging by the looks of the strong local hip-hop scene, that day may soon be returning.