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Detroit artists break, scratch, and dent stereotypes with free show

Posted Mar 13 2006

Detroit youth use hip hop to offset stereotypes. This article appeared in the June 2000 issue of Mi Gente.

More often that not, young people from Detroit are associated with negative stereotypes such as criminal behavior. As a result, something as simple as a conversation between friends can be construed as something more insidious. In fact, while standing on a corner, talking with a group of young people for this story, police cruisers circled the block several times, before one finally pulled up and asked us our purpose for gathering. Once we explained that we were discussing a community service project and showed some documents supporting this explanation, they went on their way. The officers were cordial, but the youth were obviously upset. Said one, “We’re out here trying to do something nice for the neighborhood and we still get harassed!”

They felt that older people always assumed that they were up to no good and that this was just another example of that fact.

So what exactly is it these young people were working on? HEETT: Hip-Hop Elements Exposed Throughout Time. Spearheaded by the Ste. Anne Church’s youth group, ironically, the purpose of HEETT is to promote the youth of Detroit and hip-hop culture in a positive light. In addition to an all-day showcase of musical talent, the group is also painting a hip-hop themed mural at the corner of Ste. Anne and Vernor streets in Southwest Detroit, also known as Mexicantown.

The project began because many of the youth members felt that hip-hop was misunderstood and that adults often associated the music and culture with gangs and violence. Yet when prodded, the group quickly gave concrete examples of how hip-hop enriches their lives.

According to Saul Hernandez, dancing to the music helps him relieve stress and forget about his problems. Expression and creativity through DJing, breakdancing, aerosol art, and rapping was also cited. Others quickly added that instead of running the streets or getting into trouble, they’re busy practicing their dance moves, rapping, or participating in some other aspect of hip hop. Beyond promoting the music, the group also expresses a desire to show older people that they were trying to live positive lives and give something back to the community. They feel that the mural will help add color and vibrancy to the neighborhood, and the show will be an opportunity for others to learn about hip hop first hand, and not through the distorted lens of television or radio.

They have already secured sponsors as diverse as Coca-Cola and the Service Tire, Co., and have worked diligently to promote the event. As a special bonus, HEETT will be tied in with the 4th annual “Blessing of the Lowriders,” an event for customized cars and bicycles. Working with students from the University of Michigan and local community members, the group hopes that HEETT will also become an annual event.

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