As hip-hop approached its 50th birthday, the UB Arts Collaboratory celebrated the birth of a movement that has left an indelible mark on music, dance, visual art, fashion, literature and film. The centerpiece of the AC’s Fall 2021 Working Artists Lab was the residency of hip-hop royalty, Grandmaster Flash, the Bronx native universally recognized as one of the genre’s originators and innovators.
Grandmaster Flash’s semester-long UB residency included collaborations with UB and Buffalo State students, area artists, DJs, musicians and dancers. Students engaged with one of the masters of hip-hop through a variety of classes, workshops and private sessions. The residency concluded with a presentation by participants utilizing various mediums, including storytelling, art and performance.
“This is what hip-hop is about for me, no segregation, no thinking you're better than this other thing. This is the way it should be.”
The UB Arts Collaboratory’s Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash brought together legendary hip-hop artists, some of the biggest names on the Buffalo scene, and recognized experts on subjects ranging from street art to breakdancing. Following a unique curriculum developed by the Arts Collaboratory and Grandmaster Flash, these luminaries shared their knowledge and experience with UB students. “Hip-hop university” guided participants through the history, innovations and impact of the most influential American art movement of the last fifty years.
The classes centered on the Origin Story of hip-hop. Each class brought in experts—some of national/international stature and others local heroes—to focus on one of hip-hop’s original four pillars.
The experts included:
Rahiem. Producer and musician (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five). Based in New York City.
Carlo McCormick, Curator, critic and author (“Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art”). Based in New York City.
Charlie Ahearn, Filmmaker (“Wild Style”) and artist. Based in New York City.
Derrick Jackson, Exec hyphenate of Griselda Records. Based in Buffalo.
Schondra Aycht, Writer (“Sneakvibing”) and producer. Based in Buffalo.
ToneyBoi. Musician and producer (“Outside Influence”). Based in Buffalo.
DJ Optimus Prime. DJ and producer. Based in Buffalo.
Naila Ansari. Dancer and educator. Based in Buffalo.
Moncell Durden. Educator, choreographer, author. Based in Los Angeles.
The UB and Buffalo communities were invited to a special performance of Grandmaster Flash’s Hip-Hop People, Places and Things at the Torn Space Theater.
When it came time for the Working Artists Lab students to share the art inspired by their time with hip-hop’s pioneers and innovators. Grandmaster Flash, IACE Director, Maria S. Horne, and the Arts Collaboratory Director, Bronwyn Keenan, were blown away by the passion, energy, talent and radical vulnerability that went into the students’ presentations. Toward the end of the fall 2021 semester, the UB Arts Collaboratory released a remarkable film that follows the Working Artists Lab students during their two months of discovery. Featuring interviews with guest lecturers and student performances, it’s a celebration of hip-hop’s influence on our cultural landscape.
The students who graduated from “hip-hop university” describe it as a life changing experience. Their deep dive into the greatest American art form of the last fifty years did more than broaden their horizons, it helped them push the limits of their artistic experience and realize the power of collaboration.
Tioga Simpson: I do not think I have grown this much this quickly since I was a little kid. Every part of this is about growth for me. I am proud of my work and I am proud of the final product, but I am more excited about the work that I have done on Me during this time.
Zuriel Mason: Aside from the work I have done, working with my partners also taught me the essence and importance of collaboration and incitement. It is one thing to be knowledgeable of the words, and another to actually put those things into practice, especially if it is something that will contribute to the culture, our communities, and our daily lives.
Anthony McCall: Seeing everyone’s effort, drive, and ideas made me realize that if I use the newfound knowledge that I have gained, I will be able to push myself even further than I am now. . . . Even further than I ever thought possible.
Intisara Brittan-Karshud: Arguably the greatest takeaway I have from this project is the power of collaboration. . . . First and foremost, I was able to see how in creating our art, one of us could contribute where another fell short and vice versa. Furthermore, it was incredible to be able to receive feedback on important aspects of performance from my peers.
Lyons: The project and its effects on me have given me a lot to continue to think about and work from. . . . I also have a firmer sense of what I need as an artist to thrive and be uplifted, in a way that is deeply fulfilling. I look forward to pursuing and creating spaces for this kind of work in the future.
Cassie Elkin: I learned how to view the world through an artist's lens. With such a focus on being a part of our community and not apart from our community, I started to think about how I fit in here in Buffalo. For the past three years I have simply been a student. Slowly but surely I am becoming more involved in my community. I am an employee, I am a spectator, and I am an artist.
Josie Morgan: Not only have I gained experience in collaboration and the professional art world, but I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the city of Buffalo. I also have an urge to give back to my own community. . . . Community and collaboration are the only way art can be sustained.
Tayron Lopez: I felt a great amount of pride that such an historic figure from back home would be in Buffalo teaching people about the history of home! A feeling that brought me away from a focus on pride and closer to an anticipation of understanding and being understood.
Syndé Jackson: I have come out of this project with a deeper appreciation of hip-hop and a better understanding of the community it has created. I’ve always been a curious person about everything but this has influenced me to really search for the why and how for everything outside of my house and not just on the computer.
The Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash garnered a significant amount of local, regional and national press. The Lab was the lead spotlight in the weekend arts section of The Buffalo News, written by local music journalist, Jeff Miers.
Throughout Grandmaster Flash’s residency, director Brett Deneve had his cameras were right there, capturing every class, guest lecture, performance and presentation. The result of Brett’s labors is a short, powerful documentary on Grandmaster Flash’s time in Buffalo. Featuring music produced by DJ Optimus Prime and Brett Deneve, the doc captures the magic of the Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash.