“Without these types of programs I would have 100% been in more trouble. So when programs in my area stopped, I felt like, as somebody who had gone through them and had benefited from them, I wanted to make sure that they were still in the community.” Naarm/Melbourne  artist and community leader Titan Debirioun says about his youth music mentoring program, Rap Good.

Since the elements of hip-hop first united in the Bronx borough of NYC in the 70s, community has always been the defining factor. A culture of voice and vision for the people by the people, hip-hop community programs enable participants to come together under a common cause, facilitate meaningful connections, and broaden their horizons to new possibilities and perspectives. 

From joining similar initiatives ran by community legends Mantra, N’fa Jones, and Mohamed Komba, to running his own with Rap Good, South Sudanese social worker Titan shares “they’ve had a profound impact on my life”

“It completely changed what was in my surroundings. I was able to leave my neighbourhood and go to all these amazing places and have all these amazing experiences.” 

– Titan Debirioun (2023).

Funded by Maribyrnong City Council, the Rap Good program provides free recording studio and music workshop sessions for youth aged 14-25 at the Phoenix Youth Centre in Footscray. They provide a space for those interested in photography, videography and podcasting. With predecessors Off The Grid and High Demand, Titan has been active in the community arts program space since 2017 and continued to pioneer hip-hop based programs in Melbourne. His commitment is driven by a sincere desire to provide opportunities for the community and empower individuals to achieve more. 

They initially spend some time understanding participants’ current situations, needs, and preferences and  “then depending on that you meet them where they’re at, and allow that process to be fun and not too wild.” The programs are centred around the individual and their unique entry points into the world of art and creativity.

Titan and his team have a tailored approach, with each iteration of the program being adapted not only to the needs of the community, but to the needs of the individual creative. The most significant of these rewards is the lifestyle transformation of individual artists who may lack the financial resources to pursue traditional routes. The cost associated with the other creative programs, combined with a lack of safe spaces and representation, can deter young talents. 

Programs like Rap Good enable youth to inspire and teach others whilst fostering their own representation, creating a positive ripple effect in the community. That has been the case for 18 year old program participant George AKA G Fazo, an upcoming artist who has been an active participant for over  six months. Rap Good has offered a secure haven for him and his friends to gather, while expanding their social connections, creative self-expression and shared experiences. With the exciting release of his debut single on the horizon in the coming year, G Fazo has meticulously crafted every aspect of his project within the nurturing confines of Rap Good.

“It’s given me an opportunity to meet and collaborate with other artists as well as experiment with my own music in good facilities with proper engineers like Swiss Berry.”

Another program making a positive impact in the music scene is the Sydney-based ONE OFF TRAKS, a writing camp collaboration between One Day Entertainment, Offbeat Collective and Elefant Traks. Founded by Jannah Beth, Carolina De La Piedra, Nazlican Eren & Minori Udea, One Off Traks platforms women, trans and non-binary creatives in a male dominated industry and brings them together for song-writing sessions and music industry workshops. 

“ONE OFF TRAKS is still a baby but with no other programs like ours, we’ll be the go-to platform for women, trans, and non-binary artists to shine. Looking ahead, we’re levelling up. 2024 is looking fierce with the success of some funding support which means a camp in April, a ONE OFF TRAKS mixtape drop, and showcases.”

– Jannah Beth (2023).

Their camp networks are the launchpad for ongoing creative growth and new industry opportunities, ensuring inclusivity and equity for their artists, today and beyond. The presence of champions within the community who wholeheartedly support these programs play a pivotal role in gaining recognition and securing resources. However, this can be a pain point when government and funding bodies tend to evaluate these programs based on quantitative rather than qualitative measures. Allocation of resources can be viewed as a checkbox approach, such as the number of participants or sessions, whereas the true impact often lies in the intrinsic value added to the community. 

Rap Good and ONE OFF TRAKS are grass-root organisations with advocacy for community arts and representation being at the forefront of their values. Like many other initiatives, funding is a constant hustle, but it’s part of the game. Navigating the dichotomy within hip-hop, balancing the artistic and transactional sides can be complex, but it’s also one of the many challenges these programs must tackle to differentiate itself from the major label or self-funded route. 

While these alternatives are important, the ecosystem often operates in silos, lacking necessary overlap, with record labels sometimes failing to fully understand the significance of nurturing emerging artists for the industry’s long-term vitality. There’s a wealth of untapped potential for growth and global recognition yet sometimes it remains undernourished, leaving room for improvement. “We’re determined to see diverse voices at the forefront of so called Australia’s path to international recognition for home-grown talent.”

“We’re challenging norms and pushing for industry-wide recognition of our community’s incredible talent. We’re committed to making a global impact, inspiring others to champion diversity and inclusion in the creative sphere.”

– Jannah Beth (2023).

Creative endeavours like Rap Good and ONE OFF TRAKS allow us to enter into a dialogue that transcends individual creativity and delves into the broader role these programs play in shaping the music industry. They are pivotal in championing underrepresented communities and nurturing a diverse artistic landscape. 

With more advocacy and investment from labels, music associations, venues and government bodies, we can continue to foster more accessibility and inclusivity that is essential to the future of Australian music. Rap Good and ONE OFF TRAKS are carrying the importance of community programs into the new era of the local scene, and this is only the beginning of the change to come.

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