Think making hip hop music isn’t a gateway to broader knowledge? A group of Virginia Tech students and staffers would disagree.
Dakotah Leif Hamilton is part of the university’s program, Digging in the Crates: Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech. In its six years on campus, the program, VTDITC for short, has grown beyond a shared space on campus and moved into its own studio, while hosting more than 200 media workshops across Southwest Virginia, program representatives say.
The workshops help show high school students and others the tie-ins between beat-making and broader learning.
“We’re teaching them how to record on pro tools,” Hamilton, of the VTDITC staff, said. “Breaking down rhythm, that’s mathematics. There’s science behind all of it, so that’s why it’s very important for us to push hip hop music. It’s our philosophy. That’s how we kick our truth.”
They’ve been kicking it a lot lately. VTDITC moved into its True School Studios this year. Previously, the program hosted studio hours on the second floor of the university’s Newman Library, but its growth since 2016 called for a dedicated space for the program to house equipment and create music.
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True School Studios is across from Squires Student Center and a one-block walk from Virginia Tech’s downtown area, an accessible spot for anyone interested in trying their hand at hip hop. The studio is free and open to all.
From there, you can learn about recording or sit in on VTDITC’s monthly seminar series, the longest running at Virginia Tech. Past seminars include “Hip Hop & Mental Health,” “Intro to DJing & Fair Use” and “Soul Sessions: Rebel Voices.”
The program’s media literacy workshops are mobile. On two days in late March, the group did eight of them.
“With the workshops, that’s us driving into Christiansburg and other areas around the New River Valley and bringing in some of this amazing music equipment to kids that probably wouldn’t have an opportunity to ever see a beat machine before,” said Jasmine Weiss, VTDITC’s community engagement program specialist. “ … Or they’ve seen it on social media but never had the opportunity to touch it.”
Staff members Weiss, and Hamilton, student DeRay Manning and others from VTDITC look to inspire area youths to pursue STEM — aka science, technology, engineering and math — through hip hop. They work to bridge sciences to creativity, to show kids that their dreams are accessible.
“Providing this equipment and explaining the STEM involved in it will hopefully help them think of themselves as someone that can do science,” said Craig Arthur, lead technical director of community engagement for university libraries. “When we think of who a scientist is, a lot of times these kids probably don’t think of someone that looks like themselves. Particularly when we go into these youth centers where the kids are African American, they can see a Tech student that looks like them, doing things that already interest them, and also sharing the resources with them to do it. That’s powerful.”
Arthur, who is a DJ, is also a VT employee. Otherwise, eight students lead the way from diverse academic perspectives.
“What’s really amazing is that the students are all from different majors,” Weiss said. “We have business information technology majors, we have engineering majors, we have philosophy majors. We’re from all different backgrounds. To be able to come together and put our heads together for this main purpose and passion of hip hop is just such an amazing thing.”