Taking back the streets – one song at a time
Compton Corps set to launch Blood and Fire Records.
by Christin Davis –
In the midst of South Central Los Angeles, the emergence of “Blood and Fire Records” at The Salvation Army Compton Corps will soon supply the city with a new kind of vigor.
The corps, led by Captains Martin and Tory Ross, will be home to a professional recording studio with its own music label that will allow the community’s youth to develop and produce their own hip-hop songs.
The streets of Comptonan inner suburb of Los Angeles with roughly 100,000 residentsare considered the fount of the hip-hop music genre. Death Row Records, a label started in 1991 by rapper Dr. Dre, put the city on the map and changed pop culture worldwide. Ross plans to do the same with the upcoming launch of Blood and Fire Records.
“The Salvation Army mission is to serve where others may not,” Ross said. “Brass banding was part of the hip-hop culture of the 1800s; the Army infiltrated that culture and in Compton, we plan to do the same. We are going to reclaim hip-hop music through Jesus.”
Sports attract many of the kids that attend the Compton Corps Community Center’s after-school program. One of few multicultural facilities in the community, the corps is home to a regulation-sized basketball court and a fully stocked weight room, known as the Lord’s Gym. Ross recently secured a grant to revamp the court into a NBA-approved basketball court.
But like Ross said, not all kids play sports. He plans to use popular music to draw the others in.
A new kind of outreach
The corps recently received a three-year grant from the Mustard Seed Foundation, which provides seed funding for small startup projects of churches and Christian organizations around the world. The foundation seeks to help launch projects as a minority partner, providing funds over a limited time period in a way that encourages self-sufficiency and reliance on the local church. The grant money, along with additional money raised by the corps, will create a hip-hop youth outreach program where at-risk youth can grow both creatively and spiritually in developing and producing their own music.
The grant will supply $30,000 over three years but requires a ratio of matching funds totaling $70,000 that the corps is responsible to raise. The foundation stipulates that any donor must actually visit the corps before contributinga way to ensure that the community invests in the program.
To date, Ross said the corps has raised $8,000 of the $15,000 needed by July 2009.
The project consists of three phases. The first, which is now functioning, is a mini-studio set up with a laptop and speakers. Phase two will happen between the holidays and early spring and will be the corps’ major fundraising period. During this time, the new basketball court will be completed and Ross said he is hoping its inauguration will help build momentum for the studio. Phase three consists of the actual studio construction. A top studio designer in Los Angeles, Thierry Migeotte of Blue Turtle Productions, volunteered to design the studio. Volunteers from the corps will undertake the construction.
“The goal is to have the studio up and going by the beginning of summer 2009 so kids can use their summer free time to get familiar with it and start recording,” Ross said.
Ross has a vision for teens to develop and professionally produce positive music at the corps. The program staff will work with the teens to inspire them to live their lives differently than the social norm.
“We’re not going to tell these kids what to write but will help steer them in the right direction,” Ross said. “If we see inappropriate lyrics, we’ll ask them if they would say that to their mom or grandma and challenge them to write in a different way.”
In a community that faces racial tensions and gang alliancesit has the reputation of being the most dangerous inner city across the U.S.the hip-hop youth ministry will work to engage Compton youth in productive activities that will interest, stimulate and motivate them to steer away from illegal and gang-related activities on the streets and open their hearts to the gospel.
“We have to earn the right to speak,” Ross said. “If we show up and strive to connect with these kids, their guard comes down and their whole family can experience a turnaround.”
Their own creation
Robert Williams ShalemChristian hip-hop artist and Salvationisthas taken on the new role of youth outreach coordinator. He plans to collaborate with Sound Art, a Los Angeles based organization that provides music education for youth in underserved urban neighborhoods, to teach a basic music recording and production class.
“Hip-hop and rap music have always been a passion of mine,” Shalem said. “When I accepted the Lord at 18, it became a tool to reach people in the community from which I came.”
Shalem recalled when he and friends would hold free-style rap sessions on the street corner, attract a crowd, and then tell people about Jesus. His first album, “Divine Revelation,” can be purchased in Christian bookstores; he is currently working on a second album.
“It’s a good vision and now there needs to be serious work behind it so the community can be drawn to the corps to learn hip-hop and develop their talents and gifts,” Shalem said. “The studio will bring attention to the Compton Corps, give glory to God, and in the process, lives will be changed.”
Breanna Sylvester, 12, said she is excited about the prospect of creating her own music.
“I like the way hip-hop sounds,” she said. “It has something to say. The studio will inspire people to make music, to learn about music and how to mix it.”
One mother at the corps, Lupe Torres, brought her kids to a video game tournament at the Compton Corps two years ago and said she hasn’t left since.
“This is a neutral area; when you walk into the parking lot, you know you’re protected. Captain Ross lets you come in and dance and rapbut worship,” Torres said. “The kids around here are just waiting for the doors [of the studio] to open; they’re so ready.”
When the doors open
“It is our hope that the program will have an active and involved group of youth who are utilizing it to grow both spiritually and creatively,” said Erika Heeb, corporate grants officer in the Southern California Division. Heeb helped develop the grant proposal and an action plan for the hip-hop program.
“The grant will be a challenge for the Compton Corps to come together and make a difference in the community through this hip-hop youth ministry,” Heeb said. “Amazing things are happening in a community that needs the hope provided by a mustard seed.”
Ross said the corps plans to hold a quarterly open-mic hip-hop café where musicians from the community can showcase their talent.
“Death Row Records changed the worldwide pop culture,” Ross said. “It’s possible that God can use the Army in Compton to do the same.”