Farbeon and the Hip Hop Re:Education Project

Published On March 19, 2013 | By Greg | Germany, Interviews, Spain, USA

New York based emcee Farbeon is more than just a performer and artist. beyond his art, his calling has been to use hip hop and work with youth as an educator and cultural ambassador to the world. His organizations have taken students to Berlin and brought Germany youth to New York – giving kids a different perspective on life.

Farbeon spoke with World Hip Hop Market about his background in hip hip, education and how he shepherds kids to and from New York.

by Greg Schick (for World Hip Hop Market)

farbeonWorld Hip Hop Market: Tell us about your own background in hip hop.

Farbeon: Born and raised in the US-Mexican border-town of El Paso, Texas—far from the inner-city streets of New York City, who could have ever imagined the role that Hip Hop would play in my life.  For me as a youngster, Hip Hop was rap—an emcee not singing, but speaking rhythmically over a beat.  It was a DJ mixing songs and scratching records.  Hip Hop was music, a form of entertainment.  It was image and fashion, and it was delivered to me everyday for 2 hours by Yo! MTV Raps.  Graffiti was backdrop.  Break-dancing was ornament.  And I was a naïve 10 year-old growing up in a middle-class household in a desert sun-city.  25 years later, Hip Hop has afforded me a strong livelihood, the opportunity to travel the world, and the responsibility to do right by the culture that has helped me, and so many others, find our voice and manifest our own personal destinies.

As a poet, emcee, singer, photographer and educator, I have rocked stages, panels and classrooms across the United States and abroad, from the streets of Spanish Harlem to the halls of Georgetown University to the former USSR air-force hangers of Hip-Hop KEMP in the Czech Republic. In addition to rocking shows with The Last Poets, Rob Swift, Fishbone, The Coup, Wordsworth, Rhymefest, The Visionaries, J-Live, Method Man, Camp-Lo, Blu, Aloe Blacc & DJ Exile, I have co-taught classes with Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Sadat X and Fab Five Freddy.

With almost 15 years in education, I work to develop pedagogy that moves beyond high-stakes testing and bridges the gap between the arts, academics and social youth development. I have taught Poetry, Performance, Song-Writing, Photography & Hip-Hop History and Culture at high-schools, universities and community centers throughout the United States and abroad. I am the Founding Director for The Hip Hop Re:Education Project and NYC Project Director for the BronxBerlinConnection.

I have released 5 records, including my debut album, “Collective Memory” which was produced by Foundation (1099 Records) and which remains a classic 11 years after its release.  As well, I have expanded my performance range to include the use of loop stations, effects pedals and live computer production.   My music has been featured in television and film.  I have toured Europe 9 times in the last 4 years.

My time behind the camera lens is dedicated to documenting Hip Hop’s revolutionary urgency and transformational potential.  I have had the honor of documenting Hip Hop pioneers, practitioners and fans at concerts, exhibitions, workshops and cipher jam sessions the world-over.  I recently celebrated my first solo exhibition, Organic Intellectual at La MaMa Galleria in New York City.  As well, my photos and writing have been featured in the House of World Cultures (Berlin, DE) publication Translating Hip Hop.

I am finishing up my own Masters Degree in Hip Hop Re:Education through the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies at New York University and plans to graduate in the fall of 2014.

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New York students of the Hip Hop Re:education program. Photo courtesy of Farbeon.

WHHM:  What is the Hip Hop Re:Education Project – who does it serve and what are it’s goals?

Farbeon: The Hip Hop Re:Education Project (HHRP) is a NYC-based arts organization that develops artistic and educational programming to inspire and transform communities, engage marginalized and disaffected youth and improve youth motivation and achievement.  The HHRP uses an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that gets back to Hip Hop’s roots.  Utilizing the elements themselves as pedagogy, youth are encouraged to commit to a craft, invest in the creative process and develop solutions for the problems facing today’s world.

Since 2005 the HHRP has worked with over 3,000 young people (ages 8 – 24) throughout the United States and abroad.  The HHRP offers an alternative approach to today’s education system by: a) developing arts-integrated curricula that helps young people meet academic standards and b) developing artistic programming that helps reintegrate disenfranchised young people into positive communities.  Ultimately, the HHRP empowers today’s youth to be masters of their own destiny and agents of change in the world-at-large.

We meet our mission via three main programmatic strands:

  • All-City Workshop Series:  An artistic workshop series dedicated to bringing together young people (ages 18-24) from throughout the five boroughs of NYC and beyond.  Last year All City released its first music album, which features 25 songs from youth in NYC, Berlin, Lyon, Prague and Austin.  This year, aside from working All-City, Vol. 2, we are also organizing a series of life-skill / job-training workshops to help prepare our young people for the world outside of Hip Hop.
  • Travel Agency of Change – Described below
  • Sustain-Ability:  The HHRP is committed to an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that attempts to “remix”–that is sample from an array of best practices in order to increase student attendance and achievement.  We partner with schools and universities to offer a variety of curricular and professional development services, all in the efforts of empowering young people to take the lead in their own self-actualization. We do more than place teaching-artists in the classroom; we empower principals, teachers and students to be Re:Educators themselves, building capacity and curricula to ensure success for years to come.

3WHHM: How does this tie in with the BronxBerlinConnection?

Farbeon: The BronxBerlinConnection is a year-round cross cultural exchange program that uses the mediums of spoken word and music—particularly, rap and hip hop—to explore and express the unique experiences of urban youth around the world, the critical challenges they face and the solutions necessary to enact change in their communities.  Initiated almost three years ago, it began as a Berlin-based project, but has grown into a transatlantic exchange—bringing together marginalized young people from all five boroughs of New York City and every district of Berlin.  The program gives young people a chance to be heard.  It utilizes Hip Hop culture as an alternative educational tool and a method to connect with young people who are rarely being reached by adults in any meaningful way. It gives those youths who, for one reason or another, have not been open to even speaking to adults, a reason to try once more—in their own language and on their own terms.  Rather than glorifying the violence and misogyny sometimes found in mainstream Rap music, this project stresses its interest in real life stories.  But to understand how this program ties into the HHRP, I need to take a few steps back….

In August of 2009, while finishing up a European tour in Berlin, I met Olad Aden, a youth social-worker in Berlin who had been using Hip Hop and international travel to help inspire and motivate his young people.  Up until that point, my life was really split up into two separate worlds…the world of education and Hip Hop.  I had been teaching since 1999, completing full-time teaching stints at both public and private schools in Phoenix, Arizona and New York City, NY.  At the time of this meeting, I was no longer a full-time teacher, but I was still working in public schools throughout NYC as a “teaching-artist.”  My job was to use my artistic skills to support classroom teachers and engage young people critically in their academic development.  Yes, I was able to bring my passion for Hip Hop into the classroom, but only in as much as it served the standard-core curriculum.

Olad did not work in a school; he was a “street-worker,” and as he described it, his job was to engage young people who had dropped out of school or who did not attend a Boys and Girls club.  For the most part, Olad’s young people distrusted the adult-world, resorting to the vices of the streets: drugs, alcohol and gambling.  In an attempt to address these issues and reintegrate disaffected youth back into a broad network of support mechanisms, he developed GangwayBeatz, a musical project that connected with youth through Hip Hop.  As Olad continued to tell me about this project and the BronxBerlinConnection, an upcoming exchange trip to New York City that he was planning for a group of his youth, I became hooked!  His approach to his practice as a youth advocate and his use of Hip Hop as a tool for social change inspired me tremendously.  On that sunny day, standing by the Weltzeituhr, I committed to not only helping Olad with his upcoming trip to New York City, but to also developing a more critical, pedagogical approach to my practice as an artist, educator and agent of change. Up until that point, my artistic work and teaching work were two separately distinct aspects of my life.  To some I was Farbeon: a professional recording and performing Hip Hop artist; while to others I was Mr. Saucedo: a veteran teacher of 10 years.  From that point forward I would be one in the same, and my artistry would lie equally in my work as a performer, practitioner and custodian of my craft and culture.

For the next two years, I dedicated a large portion of my own artistic and creative capital to developing the BronxBerlinConnection, leveraging various connections and resources in NYC’s Hip Hop community to organize workshops, shows and events for the German visits to NYC in the Fall of 2009 and the Spring of 2011.  In the Spring of 2010, I developed and facilitated a youth song-writing and recording workshop series to prepare five songs for GangwayBeatz’s Metropolitans Vol. 2 release.  I worked closely with six young people from CUNY Prep in the Bronx, as well as a couple of other young people that I knew from Urban Word.  Ultimately, those eight young people would be the first New York City youth to visit Berlin as members of the BronxBerlinConnection in September of 2010.  I naturally grew into the role of NYC Project Director for the BronxBerlinConnection, a role that I gladly accepted and have since worked diligently to develop.  Following the German trip to NYC in April of 2011, I realized that I needed a New York City-based organization to properly support BronxBerlinConnection programming.  Furthermore, I was beginning to realize that the kinds of youth programming that I wanted to develop couldn’t fully exist in a highly institutionalized school setting.  Ultimately, I was looking to develop a GangwayBeatz-style program in New York City.

Ultimately, Olad’s Hip Hop approach to youth development and the GangwayBeatz model, was an inspiration to me.  I used the BronxBerlinConnection exchange program as the impetus to formalize The Hip Hop Re:Education Project.  Simply stated, this German initiated project set the foundation for a new vigorous approach to youth development in New York City—the birthplace of Hip Hop culture—ultimately refuting the notion that the development of Global Hip Hop is merely a one-way street from the United States to the rest of the world.

WHHM: Tell us about the Travel Agency of Change.

Farbeon: The HHRP builds national and international partnerships committed to virtual and real-world artistic exchange and the development of peace, knowledge and mutual understanding.  Currently our two main Travel Agency of Change initiatives are a) the Cyber Cypher, a partnership with telepresence studio CultureHub which has connected our young people with young people in the U.K., Italy, South Korea, Germany, Los Angeles and New Orleans and b) the BronxBerlinConnection youth exchange program (described below).  We also have supported and programmed numerous Hip Hop exchange tours for national and international youth groups visiting NYC.

The Hip Hop Re:education Project is currently raising money to send it’s youth to Berlin, Barcelona and New Orleans. Please check out their IndieGoGo page and consider a donation.

For more information check out www.reeducate.org