“When I was introduced to hip-hop music, it was like my internet. That’s how I found out what was going on everywhere… The people writing were delivering a true authentic experience wherever they were,” says Al Elliott, a recent TEDx speaker and founder of the “It Is Written” collaborative hip-hop showcases in Birmingham. Elliot, a language arts teacher at Green Valley Elementary in Hoover, began the original “It Is Written” project to emulate the creative process in hip-hop songwriting that has inspired him to support local art and social growth.
“It’s an inspirational point to know that it doesn’t take 10 years to write good music, or even inspired music,” says Elliott. “This is live, inspired music to show what is possible in Birmingham.”
Like the original, which took place on April 6 at the Birmingham Museum of Art, “It Is Written 2” is an improvisation-based hip-hop music showcase that develops its performed content from audience participation. “When people come in, [the audience] will write on suggestions what they want described [in the show],” explains Elliott. “The rappers go through and pick out the cards. They have one hour to pick up a pad and pen and write out the verse they will perform. Performers are grouped together for collaborative writing, and an hour later the rapper will deliver the verses they have written with the house band in a variety show. Locals DJ Jeff C, DJ Chocolate, and Ain’t EZ will all be contributing to the music with their respective sets.
“Hopefully, this shows everyone the reality that people are pinning for better music,” says Elliott. “Most of their success comes from being a ‘songwriter,’ so we’ve also been showcasing the songwriting prowess of artists in this city.”
Elliott intends for “It Is Written 2” to offer Birmingham hip-hop artists and patrons a vessel through which to open dialogue about social issues, personal issues, and other topics of concern. His inspiration for the showcase, he says, comes from the close-knit creative circles of golden-age hip-hop — artists like NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Mos Def, Common, and Talib Kweli.
Elliott hopes to use projects like “It Is Written” to revive focus on social dialogue in rap and hip-hop music. “That’s largely what I want to be able to bring back,” says Elliott, “That has inspired [It Is Written] artists to bring their true inspired experience — and with suggestion from the audience, it’s almost like having a conversation.”
A substantial portion of ticket proceeds from the June 22 event will benefit the local Kuumba Community Art Center, a creative studio run by Deidre Clark, a friend of Elliott and a fellow TEDx speaker.
“Al and I are both TEDx alumni,” says Clark. “I think it just kind of happened out of that. We thought each other’s work was important. Elliot sent word to a friend one day that he was interested in potentially partnering for this event.”
The Kuumba Community Art Center in Ensley works with local young adults at students to hone and sharpen their creative skills, specifically in graphic design. Additionally, they work to teach their students the necessary business skills need to succeed in the design industry, such as strategies for successful client meetings, and product estimates. “They also have the opportunity to practice this with actual clients so that they have a body of relevant work,” says Clark.
“Any time people come together to do creative things, I think it has a social impact,” Clark says. “What [creativity] looks like at the conclusion reaches the community directly. If one of the performers walks away and gets me connected with his or her ideas, or one of them gets connected to the city, then that is impactful. If that only happens for one person, I think that is amazing. In Kuumba, we are a byproduct of this [process].”
“It Is Written 2” hopes to be a platform to also showcase talent beyond musical performance. “At the show there will be two chefs preparing food for the VIP area upstairs, and there will also be two painters, jewelers, and art in general,” says Elliot. “This will be a hub for the artistic scene [in Birmingham].”
Rappers performing will be GI Magus, Phoenix, Preacha Boi, Transparent the Poet, Rodquita Hendricks, Joe Clark, LP Like Paul, L. “Fee-Fee” Redmon, Shaun Judah, Dean Priest, and King Tall T, in addition to the aforementioned DJs and MCs. Catering for VIP ticket purchasers will be provided by Eryka Perry’s “Not Just Catering” and Chef T. Randle’s “Underground Cooking Academy.” VIP and General Admission tickets for the June 22 event at Saturn are available at saturnbirmingham.com.