Chicago's hip-hop school of rock
Artists like Psalm One give back with youth mentoring program Rhymeschool
Chicago rapper and Whitney Young graduate Psalm One has had quite a career. She has shared bills with 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, Jean Grae and Rakim. She has performed all over the country and toured Europe. She is signed with acclaimed hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment, has a dedicated twitter following and is roundly beloved by Chicago's music critics.
But her passion extends beyond the mic, as she uses her skills and profile as a working MC to bring music and motivation to Chicago's schools. After helping kids learn music through the ASCAP Songwriting Residency program and America Scores and releasing an album in 2012 called "Child Support," Psalm (born Cristalle Bowen) has linked her organization Charm Lab with Chicago's Intonation Music Workshop to form Rhymeschool, a 10-week after-school program that takes kids through the entire process of creating a song.
"I did a lot of traveling [around the U.S.] for the Child Support album last year," she said. "So for me, going to all of these different places ... you see the need there, but then you realize there's even more need at the crib. So when I came back here and I was working on my music and my touring schedule slowed down, I opened up my mentoring schedule."
After doing a three-day intensive Rhymeschool program last fall, Psalm and Intonation are doing two Rhymeschool programs this spring. One meets Tuesdays at the Taylor Park community center on 47th Street, and the other meets Thursdays at CICS Bucktown.
Think of Rhymeschool as a hip-hop School of Rock. Students learn how to rap, write songs, record and perform. To help with the process, Psalm brings other MCs and producers into the classroom to work with the kids. "Kids Right Now," the lead single off "Child Support," features Chicago rapper Mikkey Halsted. Hip-hop duo Tanya Morgan assisted in the fall 2012 Rhymeschool, while Big Pooh of Little Brother, The Hood Internet and Open Mike Eagle are slated for the spring program.
And on Feb. 2, the Bucktown Rhymeschoolers will perform one song at Intonation founder Mike Simons' Rock & Pop Circus concert at Lincoln Hall. Simons has three student bands scheduled to perform. Psalm will also play a two- to three-song set.
Simons and Psalm met in the fall of 2010 at the Hideout during a concert promoting the aldermanic candidacy of Rhymefest.
"We had always toyed with the idea of starting a hip-hop program with Intonation," Simons said. "We were already working with bands of students, and we knew that hip-hop is a huge part of youth culture and thought it would be really cool to start a program along those lines. But we wouldn't want to do it unless we found the right person to facilitate it. Someone who is super-talented but also someone who understands the youth development side of what we're doing."
To Simons, that person was Psalm One.
"I think that Psalm is the perfect ambassador for this kind of program," he said. "She's reliable and consistent in what she does. She has incredible positivity. She's also a tremendous role model for the kids, especially being a powerful female presence in the classroom, which is harder to come by. She is of the community that we serve, and that's a big deal for the kids, to be working with somebody who grew up in the same way that they did."
Like all great teaching experiences, Psalm has benefited right along with her students.
"It's been a learning experience for me," she said. "It's been teaching me patience, which I never had a lot of. When you're dealing with kids who are impressionable and not necessarily professionals, you learn to open your heart a lot to be patient, and to allow somebody room to grow.
"In hip-hop, it's always been like, 'Ah, you suck!' People are very quick to tell you that you suck. But if you can guide someone from being scared to death of something, and not only guide them to where they're not scared, but where they're actually good at it and they're kind of thriving and thinking about it as a future, that's incredible. For me, just being able to be a catalyst for growth is the best thing."
For more information on Rhymeschool, check out charmlab.org, regularblackgirl.com and intonationmusicworkshop.org.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC