For several days, young people of various ages have converged on a music studio in the D.C. suburbs to fine-tune their musical skills and embrace a homegrown art form that has gained global prominence in the past three years.
Under the tutelage of millennial and Gen-X music industry titans, these youngsters play drums, congas, cowbells and timbales. Some even take the microphone and sing covers of Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” and other popular tunes.
All the while, adults watch with glee as elementary- and middle-school-aged children become more comfortable with the instruments. At times, they join their younger counterparts in the fun, turning the studio into a go-go function.
Timothy Evans, 12, said he wants to bring his friends to the Coffee Shoppe Studio in Temple Hills, Maryland, where he discovered his love for the drumbeat.
“It’s a deep noise [like the way] people tell me my voice is deep,” Timothy said. “I see myself playing the drums or the guitar. I would come back [to the studio] to practice more [because] it was fun. Young people need some more to do in their lives to keep themselves occupied.”
Southeast-based non-profit Project Purpose DC, in collaboration with Aaron “Charlie Black” Bennett and Eddie “Eddie Kane” Hunter, recently hosted the free studio sessions as part of an effort to expose young people to artistic and career opportunities.
Project Purpose DC co-founder Presto, a local producer and violence interrupter, said this particular offering has attracted the attention of D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Linda K. Harllee Harper, D.C.’s director of Gun Violence Prevention. It counts among a bevy of resources Presto and his colleague BDR have offered to bridge a workforce development gap that has prevented residents east of the Anacostia River from participating in the local economy.
Since Project Purpose DC’s launch in March, Presto and BDR have tapped into their network to help young people hone their musical talents. In addition to Bennett and Hunter, the duo have brought JusPaul, a well-known singer and percussionist and a member of the Oy Boyz, a music group JusPaul and BDR launched in collaboration with other artists.
“You can use music to get through to young people,” Presto said. “We got [Charlie] Black and The Coffee Shoppe to start the music connection program to provide a safe space on school nights. We have sessions with people from multiple hoods [like] Congress Heights, Marshall Heights and Barry Farms. We want to get [more] traction and positive momentum.”
Weeks ago, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks enacted a curfew to curb violent crime. She has since reported positive results, including the apprehension of young people during incidents and efforts to connect them and their families to community resources.
All the while, The Coffee Shoppe conducts these studio sessions with the curfew in mind, making sure to wrap up activities so that young people can make it home on time.
For Bennett, a music teacher who managed go-go bands and hip-hop acts in the District for nearly 30 years, working with Project Purpose DC has helped fulfill a goal he’s wanted to accomplish for years. In the 1990s, Bennett launched Mad Mob Entertainment, one of the District’s first hip-hop record labels. Since then, The Coffee Shoppe has had a presence in Southeast and even as far as Fredericksburg, Virginia.
At a time when many people ponder how best to address youth-related crime, Bennett described the formula in simple terms.
“Young people need opportunities for something different than what they’re used to,” Bennett said. “We introduced the kids to go-go and they picked it up. That’s one way to reach them. I think some of them really want to pursue hip-hop but they might not feel like there are enough avenues. Mad Mob Entertainment wants to provide that and I do that through the Coffee Shoppe.”