Brooklyn-based emcee Rabbi Darkside raised over $12k on Kickstarter to push his album, which released in mid-June. Before he sets off on his tour next month to support the album, I caught up with his latest crowd-funded album, “Prospect Avenue,” along with his other project
What’s up Rabbi Darkside. How you been? I’ve known you for a while now considering we both have Buffalo, NY in common. For the people out there that don’t know who you are, tell us who Rabbi Darkside, the rapper is.
Peace sir! Been really well, thank you. Blissfully busy with all the work revolving around the release of “Prospect Avenue,” wrapping up some teaching residencies, gearing up for Fall tours, maintaining artistic practices… and trying to keep all that balanced with a focus on love, health, fitness and family. That current status update is a pretty accurate representation of Rabbi Darkside, in general. With dashes of “The Darkside” in there, which tend to emerge in those most-trying New York City hours… But word, it all started in Buffalo, my hometown. First seeing turntablism at Baby Steps at Broadway Joe’s (peace to DJ Tommee!), first freestyles with my high school brethren at 15-16, beatboxing out of necessity, Native Tongues/Wu/Digable Planets/Gangstarr/The Roots as the coming of age musical foundation, taping Lightning Rod & DJ Cory late-night Sundays on WBNY… moving on to becoming a college radio DJ myself, living in NYC for the first time when I was 20, DJing on WBAR, having the chance to be immersed in hip hop culture in its birthplace and getting absolutely addicted to it. Laying in the cut and cyphering at Wetlands in ‘99, honing my skills at the Nuyorican and Freestyle Mondays, brief stint with an indy label in ’01-02, co-hosting a monthly the Bowery Poetry from ’03-‘06, accumulating freestyle competition titles, and committing to the growth process. I think that’s the “typical” side of my hip hop history. The less conventional is my adolescent base in classic rock and folk, my undergrad experience at a small liberal arts college in Iowa, having French rapper MC Solaar’s “Prose Combat” be one of my favorite rap albums at age 15, attributing as much influence to Beat Poets as beatmakers… But this range of influence all came together under the banner of hip hop. Having a global perspective from the jump really fueled my desire to get around the globe via music. I’m blessed to have rocked on 3 continents, and shared the stage with everyone from the Last Poets to Afrika Bambaataa to the Blue Man Group to Rosie Perez to DMC to Talib Kweli to Fishbone.
Aside from the studio/stage credit, you’re a true hip hop aficionado and you possess a lot more outlets for hip hop than most people do. Can you share the story on your MTV fame?
Hip hop’s modularity and universality allow it to be used in an endless number of venues and capacities, and it’s been one of my primary teaching tools since I set out on my path as an educator. The MTV “Made” gig came around thanks to my man Kid Lucky, founder of Beatboxer Entertainment and Beatrhyming. It was ’08, and MTV put out a casting call for a beatbox coach for “Made.” A bunch of cats from Beatboxer Entertainment, of which I was a performing member (primarily as an MC), got called in. I had a great audition and the producers really wanted me for the role; problem was I wasn’t really that much of a known beatboxer at the time. So I underwent a 3-week crash course with the Beat Apetit Czech Beatbox crew (who were staying at my house at the time) and sewed up the gig. “Made” is probably the most “real” reality TV show out there. It puts young people in situations that can be truly transformative. I relished the opportunity to present real life hip hop teaching arts to the world; not a celebrity put on the spot to quasi-teach. I never doubted that my mentee, Linnea, would succeed. I created an individualized 5-week training program for her; made sure she was grounded in hip hop history, knowledge of beatbox pioneers and could hold it down in a cypher. It was a magical experience for everyone involved, and it changed Linnea’s life. Not specifically because she learned how to beatbox, but because of the confidence building and community building she engaged in. She went from backstage techie to onto beatboxer for her high school’s show choir, shy gal to RA for 3 years in college, and just graduated with a degree in Speech Pathology. She’s trying to figure out how to use beatboxing as a phonics/speech tool in the realm of speech therapy! And as far as fame from it goes, sure, there was a hot minute where I was getting recognized on the train (“yo… weren’t you on the Real World?” “Nah son, different show.” Haha), and it’s still in syndication around the globe, so that’s cool. At the end of the day, it was a very meaningful experience for everyone involved, from the Mom to the cameraman and everyone in between. We’re all still in touch. And yeah, I cried with pride a little on MTV. No shame. Ha!
You’re also an educator starting as a typical teacher and now you teach hip hop to kids. How did that all happen and can you tell us about the programs?
When I first permanently settled in Brooklyn, you could be hired by the Department of Ed with merely a Bachelor’s Degree. I’d only taken one education class in undergrad (majored in Political Science), and a month past turning 22, got a job teaching middle school Social Studies and English a block from my crib. Impossibly tough first year, but I really loved it, learned a lot about myself, about youth development, lesson planning and crowd control. After 4 years of the full-time gig, I knew I had to get free of the bureaucracy and painful institutional scrutiny of the DOE. I was, fortunately, able to make a pretty seamless transition into the world of Arts Education. I started off teaching Performance Poetry, and since then have taught Turntablism, Songwriting & Recording, Beatboxing, Music Production and Improv. I’ve written rap-song test prep curricula (“Fresh Prep”), co-taught Master Classes with DMC, Pharoahe Monch, Tailb Kweli, and presented workshops around the country. Now I’m the co-founder of the Hip Hop Re:Education Project, alongside my main man Farbeon. We offer a few strands of programming: we hold bi-weekly intellectual/musical cyphers for youth ages 18-26 called “All City,” and are working on our second All City youth hip hop album. We facilitate international youth hip hop exchanges via our “Travel Agency of Change,” and just had delegations go to Barcelona and Berlin; and we do in-school arts integration work. This Spring, I taught at a middle school in the Bronx and at a transfer high school in Bed-Stuy.