Though incarceration is advertised as a rehabilitative program for those who break the law, many can tell you there’s nothing rehabilitative about being locked up. One form of “rehab” at Rikers Island in New York City is solitary confinement. However, recently, Rikers banned the practice for its inmates under the age of 21. Seeing an opportunity to really improve the lives of Rikers’ young inmates, a collective of Queens producers and Columbia University teamed up to save them through hip-hop. According to Cameron Rasmussen, program director at the Center for Justice at Columbia, “Education in school these days, lots of young people are disengaged because it doesn’t really speak to them, but hip-hop gets them where they live.”
Astoria-based music production company, Audio Pictures collaborated with Columbia to create a digital music class called “Beats, Rhymes and Justice,” which is taught at the jail. According to NY1 News:
The company provides equipment and runs recording sessions at both Rikers and Carnegie. At Carnegie Hall, instructors encourage former inmates to work closely with seasoned music students to learn the value of harmony, in and out of the studio.
“From being incarcerated, when they do touch the town, hit the streets, they’re allowed to come here and continue the program,” said Audio Pictures co-founder Ryan Burvick. “It actually plants a seed that grows, that allows them to divert the energy that they can use to get into some nonsense and some reckless stuff, into something that’s more productive.”
Furthermore, the class also makes participants analyze rap lyrics and realize what rappers are really saying. “We might take a song like Tupac’s ‘Better Days,” said Darnell Hannon of Audio Pictures, who serves as an instructor. “We just use it as an example as someone who was in a situation of incarceration and how they looked to turn their life around.”
Next month, the program will be expanded to a 5-day intensive “hip-hop workshop” at Rikers. The guys at Audio Pictures find the experience to be just as rewarding as the young men they teach. “I’m humbled, humbled to know that I’m just another instrument in life’s song,” expressed Burvick.
See the “Beats, Rhymes and Justice” program in action here.