Author of the text: Gjorgi Pulevski
In the picture above: Vladimir Agovski Ago, leader of the audio production course, explaining musical scales to the participants 

Hip Hop Project: Inspiring Communities“ started in June 2020 as a part of public program of Socio-Cultural Space Centar-Jadro supported by the Swiss Embassy in the Republic of North Macedonia and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of North Macedonia.

In the last 20 years, hip hop has developed into a trans-global experience in almost every industrialized nation in the Western world.  From its birth in the 70’s until present day, it remains a faithful artistic mode that allows us to vent our pain, love, fears, frustrations, rebellious energy, and our thirst for justice and power. Hip hop culture historically served to give voice to the voiceless, carve out space for free expression, and produce new identities. Some of the most remarkable aspects of hip hop culture are its uplifting messages, the lessons shared, its distinctive ways of constructing knowledge, and the active consumption of the culture.  Due to the sheer vastness of its reach, hip hop has produced and nurtured a variety of voices, styles, opinions, and uses. But, in those dynamics, especially with its global popularity and subsequent commodification, hip hop culture risks losing the values that have made up its core for so long – its emphasis on marginal youth engagement, questioning authority, and raising awareness.

The late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard from the Wu Tang Clan crashed the stage at the 1998 Grammy Awards famously yelling: “Wu-Tang is for the children!”.  With this thing in mind, last year I asked myself, how can I help “the children”, the youth in Macedonia through hip hop culture? As someone who has enjoyed hip hop from an early age, can I remember what it was like when I was a high school kid embarking on my hip hop journey? What did I feel was missing back then? And, mostly importantly, is there a way to use my position in the Socio-Cultural Center – Jadro in Skopje to connect with hip hop youth and give them more tools, more knowledge, more opportunities? Give them even more ways to do what they want to do most – transform their day-to-day experience and channel it into hip hop. I knew that I’d have to balance out the creative with the informal and educational.

So I envisioned a project with three main pillars: (1) A polemic platform that challenges the reputation of hip hop as a culture that solely represents materialistic idolatry, violence, sexual exploitation, street warfare, consumption of drugs, alcohol, and negative attitudes towards women; (2) a free course focused on getting young people in an environment that would allow them to develop their individual skills in music production and post-production; (3) a rap demo call – a rare opportunity for young adults to collaborate with established producers and record in a professional studio.

The polemic platform, imagined as a set of discussions with various guests tied to hip hop culture in one way or another, has various topics and goals. One of the most important ones was building up the audience’s technical writing skills through showcasing the writing methodology of one the most prolific and most rhythmically complex Macedonian rappers – Tonyo San. In this 150-minute-long process, we analyzed Tonyo San’s songs with him personally, and discussed and showcased the gradual, chronological development of several elements in his writing: topic, punchline, intuition, voice intensity, emotion, flow, vivid storytelling, and more. As the aim with these discussions is to critically examine the culture of hip hop in order to understand its transformative power, the other discussions tackled and will tackle some of the paradoxes in the culture. One paradox is the assimilation of hip hop culture, i.e. how its primary motives shifted from a culture whose focal point was the struggle against racial, social, and class division to a culture of elitism and high fashion, which allowed it to become the main ambassador and promoter of what it originally fought against. Another is the new wave of female rappers and their feminism and female empowerment in rap. And, let us not forget the divisive line in the reception of today’s rappers – while for some, they are emancipatory feminist subjects who celebrate women’s sexuality, the more conservative see them as a piece of the sensational apparatus that reinforces misogynistic views of women. We believe that this type of discussion can help us explore the power of hip hop as a medium for improving social consciousness by raising awareness on issues like ethnic discrimination, patriarchy, and sexism and developing the skills of the youth.

Тhe second pillar, the audio production workshops, on the other hand, was designed with the aim to enhance the knowledge and skills, and to nurture the attitude necessary for mastering live sound, acoustics, music composition, studio workflow recording, producing, and post-production. Taking into account that our country is a developing country and has low standards of living, we wanted to make the course completely free of charge, which means assessable to everyone. 20 young people with or without former experience were selected for this intensive 8-month course. These workshops will equip young people with the creative tools that can transform their energy into something creative and innovative from a musical standpoint and grant them a creative edge in the labor market.

Finally, the third pillar, the DemoRap2020 call, is a project designed to help the development of the domestic rap scene and give young individuals and groups an open space where they can share their stories and their social struggles. To enter, participants were asked to submit their short demo song. If selected by the jury, they would win а professional session for recording a new original song, mix and master in one of the studios of the finest Macedonian rap producers, and also, a cash prize. The open rap call was well-received, with more than 60 applications from cities all around Macedonia: Skopje, Bitola, Ohrid, Stip, Makedonska Kamenica, Gostivar, Tetovo, Prilep, Kocani, Sveti Nikole, and Kavadarci. Finally, the jury has selected 6 final artists. In the incoming months, they will record their songs in a professional studio. Among other things, this project has intrinsic mentorship value, because the experienced producers can help the finalists hone their craft with various tips on recording vocals, tempo, intensity, flow – priceless advice that can help upcoming artists tremendously, and consequently, help them in turn enrich the rap scene as a whole.

Along with acquiring technical skills and experience in professional recording, one of the less obvious ways in which young artists can benefit from this project is through the opportunities for friendship and collaboration between all the parties involved. Both the potential for collaboration and the potential for reference in others’ work have been one of the fundaments of hip hop culture from the very start, both in content and form. The sampling in producing and the features in songs and albums make up the spine of hip hop. I hope my project can make a small contribution in straightening its posture.

Biography of the author of the text

Gjorgi Pulevski is postgraduate at the Department for Policy Studies at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities – Skopje. He’s been actively participating in a number of projects and programs in the field of culture and activism since 2009. In 2010 and 2011 he produced two rap albums as a member of the “Stres” rap-duo.  From 2013 to 2018 he was part of the “Kontra Kadar” debate cinema, for which he co-organized more than 120 socially-engaged film screenings and discussions. In 2014 he started working for the “Manaki Brothers” International Cinematographers’ Film Festival, first as a coordinator of the festival’s volunteers and, for the last three years, as a selector and coordinator of the student and children’s film program. He has produced and hosted 35 radio shows on Bitola radio station “106”. He’s been a member of a number of organizations, among which the Movement for Social justice “Lenka”, the leftist movement Solidarity (Solidarnost) and Studentski Plenum.