To some, being a rapper is the “most dangerous job.” While the actual statement may cause debate, the sentiment is understandable nonetheless — especially in Baltimore. Legends such as Lor Scoota and G-Rock have lost their lives to gun violence. As recently as this month, popular rap producer WhiteBoy was slain.
Beats Not Bullets aims to change that.
A fundraising concert for the music program Friday at Baltimore Soundstage will be headlined by MC Bravado and Jay Royale — both current artists who have direct ties to the initiative and are firm believers in what it represents.
Beats Not Bullets’ goal is to interrupt violence by making hip-hop more accessible. They teach local youth about recording music and sound engineering while also doubling as a mentorship program that helps develop life skills and job readiness. Though originally started solely to serve middle and high school students, the program has expanded their demographic to include those up to 25 years old as well.
Beats Not Bullets founder and director Kevin Beasley, who has himself suffered non-life-threatening injuries due to gun violence, said that an event like Friday’s can “bridge a lot of gaps.”
With the fanbases and connections that Royale and Bravado have, Beasley, also known as Ogun, said a lot of progress can be made for Baltimore with the fundraiser. “Both artists are so significant and are bringing their worlds together for a positive cause. They’re doing great things with their careers and are good people,” he said.
Originally from New York, Bravado (whose real name is Richard Croce), moved to Maryland to attend Salisbury University for college. After graduating, he tutored for extra money, which led to becoming a teacher and educator. “I really enjoyed it,” he said. “The next way to kind of scale that up was to go into the classroom and to start teaching full-time in the Eastern Shore area.”
Teaching there didn’t align with Bravado’s long-term vision, though. “As [my] music progressed, there was no hip-hop scene, so I moved to Baltimore,” he said. He continued to teach, but found that music became his priority.
As a coordinator for Beats Not Bullets, Bravado can balance being a rap artist while still educating. He works closely with Brandon Lackey, the program’s music engineer, who also previously taught at the same school in Baltimore, though at different times. The two connected because of their shared passions for music and education and have since toured together. They even use Lackey’s space at the Lineup Room recording studio as a classroom for the program.
They have made it their mission to make Baltimore hip-hop more accessible and give kids in the community “something to do that they like, while still giving them skills that are transferable,” Lackey said.
Bravado’s pairing with East Baltimore native Royale for this fundraising concert, as well as an upcoming body of work, is another way to spread that message.
Royale isn’t a teacher, but calls Beasley his mentor. He said Bravado’s association with Beats Not Bullets helped him recognize the musical talent involved and upped his appreciation for what the program was doing for Baltimore. “Their movement and mine coincided because we’re all just trying to put on for the city and encourage the betterment of it,” the rapper said.
Royale, whose real name is Justin Johnson, can’t hide his excitement about the concert, during which he’ll perform tracks off of his latest project, “Criminal Discourse.” But he’s more thrilled about promoting nonviolence. Baltimore is in need of a “positive message that you can instill into kids,” he said.
This month, as hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, artists and Beats Not Bullets are uniting to continue push the genre forward — and for a good cause.
Royale sees this as a necessity. “The violence that’s going on is insane. Not even just in our city, but everywhere,” he said. “This is needed for us. We need to all stand on something as one and celebrate something that everybody loves, which is hip-hop.”