The Voice of Hip-Hop

Celebrating Positive Role Models and Diverse Communities
by Erin Cohee '16
June 18, 2015

Erin Cohee is the Founder and Executive Director of The Uprising, an organization that designs interactive spaces, including galleries and festivals, which promote artists and businesses committed to social justice. Erin is also a Social Innovation Fellow and B-Lab participant.

It’s Friday and Ava is ready for a night out. So of course, she heads to The Uprising’s Summer Festival.

When she walks through the gates she immediately recognizes members of her community. She hears the voice of her bus driver, who is also an amazing rapper, performing a song about female empowerment. To her left, she sees her grocer, who is also a talented painter. He has created vibrant and realistic images of people of color. To her right, Ava sees her teacher leading a workshop about LGBTQ people in business. Suddenly she gets a waft of something she’s never smelled before, but immediately knows will be delicious. Food trucks are lined around her featuring buzzwords like sustainable, local, and fresh.

All the members of Ava's community are engaged in celebrating the talent and passion they have to offer. She leaves the festival feeling good about herself and her culture, something she has never experienced at another event.

You would think that in Providence, the Creative Capital, a space that celebrates diverse communities and positive role models in the media would be common, but unfortunately it’s extremely rare, not only here but across the country.

This is the problem The Uprising is going to solve. We, The Uprising, are a revolutionary arts platform. We design interactive spaces, including galleries and festivals, which promote artists and businesses committed to social justice. Ava’s story is just a glimpse into what The Uprising can do.

I personally got into this business because I was sick of how women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people were being shown in commercial hip-hop and in the media. If you ask most people what hip-hop represents they’re going to think 1. Black and Latino culture, but then 2. Violence, homophobia, and sexism. This combination has created a major problem in how people of color are stereotyped. This is not just a random string of meaningless words layered over a beat. Commercial hip-hop actually has an effect on how people live their lives and are perceived. It leads to rape culture, men of color being seen as “thugs” and womanizers, and women of color being hypersexualized and objectified.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Commercial hip-hop does not represent hip-hop as a whole. Hip-hop originated as a political and cultural tool, the voice of voiceless minorities. The fact that the genre is now massively popular does not deplete its power to create positive social change.

We are in the early stages of planning our second event, a festival taking place this July. We look forward to including a wide array of array of local artists and business. Everyone associated with The Uprising will be known for empowering and uplifting their community. Ultimately, The Uprising seeks to change how people of color are perceived by changing how they are depicted in the media.

We would love for you to participate. Please let us know if you’re interested! Everyone is welcome, though we are especially seeking sponsors and artists (musical, visual, dancers, spoken word, etc.) to exhibit their talent.

Check us out at and Contact us at [email protected].