On turntablism and turning the table.

Submitted by ClevelandCreatives on Fri, 10/21/2011 - 22:08.

On turntablism and turning the table. 

Dan Moulthrop

A few weeks back, Noelle Celeste, Luke Frazier and I took the podcast production on the road, to visit the studios of DJ Doc Harrill, turntablist, educator, Cleveland booster and all round nice guy. The recording that day was the result of a few forces coming together, one of which is a party and contest that Civic Commons is launching--and it is fast coming up a week from Friday (October 28th, to be precise).

I met Doc (and yes, that's his name. I think he has another, more plausible name, but he won't reveal it, and says he's been called Doc since he was a kid, growing up in Mayfield), back in August, after I stumbled across this video among the entries for the Cleveland City Living Awards


After casting a ballot for him, I friended him on Facebook and invited him out for coffee and cannoli at Presti's. (Yeah, it was kind of a man-date.) When we finally met, he told me about his work. When he's not engineering and mixing albums for Japanese hip hop acts, he teaches at schools, neighborhoods and a youth rehab facility.

Show #31 Just What the Dee Jay Ordered by The Civic Commons

And he teaches what he loves--turntablism (scratching and sampling) and hip hop (rhymes, flows, and the like). He uses these art forms to help students (sometimes as young as six or as old as eighteen), to learn more about themselves and their communities. He helps them write and produce professional level hip hop tracks about their own lives, their own stories and the positive things going on.  

If this doesn't strike a chord with you, think for a second about Li'l Wayne. I'll save you the embedded content and quote some lyrics. 

He ain't even thank,

He didn't even see me with the pistol n the shank,

Walked up to him put the pistol to his tank,

P**** n**** faint,

Pick that p**** up,

Naw let him lay,

Where I'm from we see a f**** dead body everyday  

That's from a song called "Dead Bodies." It doesn't require a whole lot of explication. So, imagine for a second, that a young, would-be gang member, instead of having that rhyme running through his head, is walking to the bus or to school practicing his own rhymes about his sobriety, or about the positive changes he's a part of in his neighborhood.  

Which brings me to this notion that gets a lot of buzz lately--social innovation. To my mind, social innovation is all about looking at problems and implementing solutions we haven't seen before. That doesn't seem to go far enough, though. It's also implementing existing tools in new ways; it's about changing people's lives; it's about seeing what is and imagining what could be and seeing the steps to get there. In the case of DJ Doc, it's about using the tools of hip hop to teach civics and improve children's lives.  

You might be wondering where this is all headed right now, and I'll tell you: an invitation. The Civic Commons is teaming up with Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald to launch a social innovation competition called Challenge Cuyahoga. And we're kicking it off with a party on October 28th. My colleague Emily Cole wrote about this last week, and she did a great job describing the speakers who are coming. There's a guy from Detroit changing people's live with hot dogs, a woman who is doing the same with running shoes, a clevelander building revolutionary furniture, and a woman from New York who dropped out of college only to stumble into a way to change the lives of future potential college dropouts.

And they're coming to Cleveland's west side to share their story and help inspire a sense of innovation and possibility.  

So, whatever you've got planned for next Friday night, stop by Legation (it's an art gallery on west 78th), have a drink with us and join the party. County Executive FitzGerald will issue the challenge, we'll get some ideas generating, and have some fun in the process.

See you there!  


Posted by Dan Moulthrop on Monday, October 17, 2011

Copyright © 2011 Dan Moulthrop; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.