Every other Saturday, a group of local high school kids connects with a diverse community audience. The bridge that gets them there is hip-hop.
“The Waffle Wopp” convenes at the Waffle Shop in East Liberty. It’s a one-hour live television show produced and hosted by local teens, who interview prominent people in the community. The show can seen on YouTube.
“Waffle Wopp” is a project of Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K., which was launched in 2007. Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. is an arts education and mentoring program that uses hip-hop as a tool to educate and engage kids. L.O.C.K. is an acronym for the program’s core goals: leadership development, organizational skills, cooperative economics and knowledge of the music business.
The idea behind Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. is that music — hip-hop in particular — has the power to reach young people and to teach them important skills that they can take into adulthood.
The students who take part create a CD — from writing and recording the music to producing and marketing the finished product on Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K.’s mock record label. The music they create is designed to be positive, with no drug references or sexually explicit lyrics.
Throughout this process, they learn both creative and practical skills, along with lessons in math, science and literacy.
They also have a weekly hip-hop radio program. “L.O.C.K. Down Radio” airs Tuesdays at 7 on WRCT-FM (88.3).
It’s unrealistic to believe that everyone can be the next Wiz Khalifa or Mac Miller. But the program is designed to teach skills that go beyond dreams of breaking into the music business. “We don’t want students to think that this is all glitz and glamour,” said Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K communications officer Jamar Thrasher. “We teach students that you can use hip-hop to do anything you want. Hip-hop doesn’t mean you have to be a performer. So many careers are related to hip-hop. You can be a writer, you can be a videographer, a manager, a publicist, a record label owner.”
“Waffle Wopp” launched in 2010 as an outgrowth of Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. Every other Saturday at noon, a group of middle and high school-age kids from Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. interviews guests from many areas — the university community, business, community leaders, the arts and music. The current season premiered Feb. 4 and runs through Aug. 4.
This Saturday’s panel includes: R.A. Judy, a professor in the English department at the University of Pittsburgh who teaches literary and cultural theory; Richard Purcell, an assistant professor in the English department at Carnegie Mellon University who helped develop a curriculum on African-American literature for Pittsburgh’s public schools; and poet Terrance Hayes, who is also an English professor at Carnegie Mellon. His 2010 collection of poetry “Lighthead” won the National Book Award for Poetry.
“Being an arts education program, we’re always looking for new ways to connect to the arts,” said Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. founder and executive director Emmai Alaquiva. “We have to find a way to fill that void with schools taking away arts programs. Programs like ‘The Waffle Wopp’ make for a great platform. It’s a great opportunity for these kids to learn to become part of something great.”
The students who take part in “Waffle Wopp” learn journalism skills and how to work with video.
They have a ready-made audience — the people who come in for “Waffle Shop’s” weekly Saturday brunch. “Waffle Wopp” reaches people from all generations and walks of life and shows them another aspect of hip-hop as a positive force. “Hip-hop gets a bad rap,” said Mr. Alaquiva. But by presenting it in a community context like “Waffle Wopp,” “it will bring people together,” he said.
Newcomers to the shows shouldn’t expect something deadly serious, though. It’s designed to be fun for everyone who takes part. The Wopp in “Waffle Wopp” refers to a popular ’80s hip-hop or rap dance move. All show guests are required to “Wopp It Out” by doing the signature dance move.
The project found a perfect venue in The Waffle Shop, which has become a popular East End hangout. Waffle Shop opened its doors in 2008 in a storefront in the Werner Building on South Highland Avenue. It’s a neighborhood restaurant that serves waffles and other food on weekends. It’s not a commercial restaurant but part of an art course taught by Jon Rubin at Carnegie Mellon called the Storefront Project. Students produce video talk shows where Waffle Shop visitors interact and express opinions.
But as “Waffle Wopp” approaches its second anniversary this summer, it faces new challenges. In August, the project will lose the space when the Waffle Shop is slated to close. They’re exploring options to keep “Waffle Wopp” going after that, possibly in partnership with another video production facility.
“We’re hopeful that something will work out and we will continue to bring that programming to students and to the community,” Mr. Thrasher said. “The ‘Waffle Wopp’ is the one time where the public can see the work of Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K. and really interact with the students.”
For information on Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K.’s arts education and mentoring programs for grades K-12, visit www.hiphoponlock.org.