In an Aug. 24 visit to his hometown of Chicago, 30-year-old Hip-Hop mogul Kanye West hosted his Kanye West Foundation’s (KWF) inaugural benefit to raise education awareness and encourage children to stay in school. According to Strong American Schools, an advocacy group trying to make education a priority for the next U.S. president, 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year nationwide. The group also notes that only 46 percent of black males graduate from high school, and only about half of the nation’s black and Latino students graduate on time from high school.
“The concept of over 50 percent of African Americans dropping out, I still can’t grasp that,” said West to a room full of reporters at press conference held at Hotel Sax Chicago, 333 N Dearborn.
“Think about how you would feel if you lost 50 percent of your bank account right now,” West added.” So we should be pretty upset that 50 percent of our students are dropping out.”
The Aug. 24, press conference, co-sponsored by Ariel Capital Management, was followed by a benefit concert later that day at the House of Blues. West, a six-time Grammy award winner, performed songs from his new CD release Graduation.
“The purpose of the foundation is to get kids interested in school so that they will want to be there,” said Dr. Donda West, the rapper’s mother.
Mrs. West, KWF’s board chair and former chairwoman of the English department at Chicago State University added: “It’s one thing to say, ‘stay in school,’ and another to establish a curriculum that actively involves youth in their own education. So certainly, we’re developing that curriculum.”
Established by Kanye West in 2003, the foundation has contributed more than $450,000 in support of programs designated to help young people. The foundation’s signature initiative, Loop Dreams, is a rap and music production program instructs youth on how to produce musical tracks and write and perform raps.
“Hip Hop is entertaining and kids like it, so let’s see what good we can take out of it,” West said. “I thought that would inspire our kids to go to school. Thinking about kids who want to be a rapper and want to go to the studio; why not bring the studio to the school?”
The program is named after the ‘loop’, a fundamental music production technique in which a sample is played repeatedly. The program combines core subjects with aspects of hip hop to increase literacy, develop critical and analytical thinking skills, cultivate positive habits of mind and keep students more interested in school.
“How does Dr. Dre, a musical genius, layer all these [sounds] down? How do they do these things constantly?” West said, in describing the program. “What about the engineering? How do they put this together? What about the poetry aspect, the rhyming stanzas? You can do a hip hop theory. What was this person’s history?
“There are so many textbooks that can be written about hip hop. It has been around long enough to have enough history to do textbooks on it that are very pertinent,” West added. “People are still into it, so now is the perfect time to capitalize and use it to educate people and get people excited about education.”
Cinque Muhammad is a freelance writer.