"Everyone else in my family was an addict, and I was an addict of creativity, and that saved my life," says rapper Jericho Son of None. He's been active in the Denver hip-hop community for years, spending time in a group called Educated Figures.
He now teaches history and geography -- as well as an after school music program with an emphasis on rap -- at Ace Community Challenge School, located at Santa Fe and 8th. The school is set up as a way to help kids who struggled mostly with discipline issues in traditional schools get credits toward a diploma. "These are the kids who are considered by everyone else to be the hard ones to deal with. Personally, I don't consider them that," says Jericho. "I consider them the ones who have more potential, because no one has tapped into them yet."
Jericho can relate to many of his students. His parents were drug addicts and he grew up partially in the social services system. His father was killed in an altercation with the police, and his mom recently finished a decade-long prison sentence. Jericho's grandparents got custody of him in the later part of his childhood. "I was the only one in my family to go to high school, let alone go to college," he says.
Jericho struggled in his youth when mentors who couldn't relate to his life would try to give him advice. "They tell you, 'Keep trying, find your direction and your vision,' and a lot of that didn't make sense when I was that age.
"Kids that are like me, at their best, they are just trying to make it through the day, trying to be a little bit better than they were the day before." The support he did get as a kid helped him find value in himself and helped him stay afloat. He knows how important just one positive influence can be on a child. "When you've been abused all your life, all you've heard is that you're a piece of shit, you're a burden. A lot of these kids feel like they're a burden to their parents, because their parents want to get away from them so they can go party."
Jericho said because his grandparents gave him support, and it built him up. "At least to fight the fight to be better than I was the day before. I decided as a young man, 'I'm not gonna be like my parents.'"
He tries to get his students to follow his lead. "I tell my kids, if you hate your parents so much and they made you an angry person, why do you want to end up just like them?" In the after school music portion of his school, he starts off by teaching the kids how to scratch a single turn table. After a few weeks, he gets into the production aspect of rap music. Jericho then progresses to sample slicing, and mixing and mastering. Along the way the class splits into two groups: those who want to do production and those who want to do writing. "By the end, they have a basic knowledge of recording and beat programs." When it comes to writing, the kids often write about their personal lives and struggles. "When I first get them in my class, they are more about the violent rap," says Jericho, who encourages students to at first approach writing with a spoken-word style.
A lot of history and humanitarian theories are incorporated into the class, and Jericho says he believes that this contributes to the evolution he sees in class: "I see their writing change from gang-banging music. Instead of problematic music, it becomes resolution music. Let's not just point out the problems, but point out the problems and then change them."
Jericho says that he can see the impact of hip-hop and music as an outlet on his students. "I've had kids tell me it has saved their life."
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!