• Social Innovation Fellowship

Award Year 

Hip Hop 4

Hip Hop 4 believes that Hip Hop culture can be used as a vehicle for social change by staying true to its original purpose—peace, love, unity and having fun. Hip Hop 4 is an organization that professionally trains Hip Hop crews to engage with their community on various levels: education, community organizing and performance. Hip Hop 4 places teaching artists in schools and NGOs and support them in using their art form to increase social engagement of underresouced communities. Hip Hop 4's theory of change is twofold; Firstly, reclaiming Hip Hop as a safe and expressive art form allows underprivileged youth to express themselves artistically in a way that school arts programs and their local contexts do not often allow for. This outlet for self-expression provides a safe and constructive alternative to other activities these youth often find themselves involved in. Secondly, Hip Hop 4 believes that placing Hip Hop artists in leadership roles in their local context provides uniquely effective role models for underprivileged youth while allowing these artists to further develop as educators. Hip Hop 4 trains crews in its social justice Hip Hop curriculum in order to ensure that Hip Hop is being used to relay larger life messages. Hip Hop 4 works with The GR818ERS in Los Angeles and  Project 401 in Providence on implementing a curriculum that uses the five elements of Hip Hop—Dance, Graffiti, MCing, DJing and Knowledge—to address social issues such as low levels of community engagement, gang violence, and physical fitness. This program also emphasizes the multicultural roots of Hip Hop culture and serves as an intercultural education program. Hip Hop 4 is partnered with community organizations in Los Angeles and New England, such as the Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center, the New Urban Farmers, and the Hip Hop Loves Foundation.

With the Starr Fellowship, Hip Hop 4 will further develop its curriculum this summer in Los Angeles, CA with The GR818ERS and the Hip Hop Loves Foundation. Hip Hop 4 also plans to implement the full Hip Hop curriculum in Fall 2012 in Pawtucket, RI with the New Urban Farmers and Project 401.


Hip Hop 4 is an organization that Pierre Arreola and I founded together when we realized that we both strongly believe in the power of the arts for community building and civic engagement. My inspiration for Hip Hop 4 came from my work with West African Hip Hop artists as a dance student in Senegal and Mali in 2009 and 2011. I had never really studied Hip Hop as an art form before my time there and was impressed by the power that Hip Hop artists had in terms of calling attention to social inequality. Simultaneously, however, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of modern Hip Hop being used as a tool for protest in the same way in the United States. Upon returning to the United States, I realized Hip Hop was being used to speak about social inequality, but that it simply was not being publicized in the mainstream media since that specific genre of Hip Hop is very much the language of underprivileged communities. I therefore dedicated myself to finding a way to promote positive and intelligent Hip Hop as a medium for social awareness and began looking for ways to involve myself in a socially conscious Hip Hop community. I found,  however, that there is a disconnect between the practitioners of socially conscious Hip Hop and their intended audiences; socially conscious Hip Hop crews do not get the same type of publicity that superstar rappers do and are therefore not given the same artistic development opportunities. In Fall 2011 I began to dance with Project 401 and The GR818ERS and, through multiple discussions with Hip Hop artists in these crews, began to see how a standardized social justice curriculum could help these artists attain their goals in terms of community organizing and nonviolence education.