Hip-Hop To The Good Side
By Terri Ann Palumbo - 02/25/2002 - 04:43 PM EST
Hate hip-hop? When you hear the word "rap", do you think "bad rep"? Three young men from Brooklyn can change your mind. All it takes is a listen to their crystal-clear message, delivered with captivating rhythms, motivating lyrics, and melodies that can stand on their own as instrumentals.
The Logos are cousins Arthur Bates, Aaron Jenkins and Shawn Thomas. They're committed to the notion that Christianity has a rightful place on the playlists of urban youth.
I first met the trio last June, when they were preparing for the New York metro area's GospelFest competition. Their competition song was a freestyle medley called "Christ Is The Answer For Success". I haven't been able to get either the song or the group out of my head since - nor would I want to. These guys are everything anyone of any race would want their younger generation to be: creative, intelligent and driven to succeed by their individual expressions of peaceful intent and positive belief.
Since the GospelFest competition (which they deservedly won), they've completed a CD entitled "Mind Wine" that they've distributed themselves to Christian bookstores and privately-owned music shops in Brooklyn and the other boroughs. Another CD is in the works, with a working title of "Evocative".
Promoting a positive message through music is their passion, and they get together as often as possible at Exodus Studios, located in Chester, New York. Aaron spearheads the business ventures of their newly-incorporated production company, Earational Entertainment, which has just signed a female trio called "Chosen" to their fledgling roster. "We like the idea of keeping things in the family," says Aaron, "and the ladies of Chosen are three sisters with incredible voices. They're more ballad-oriented, and we're having a great time working with them in the studio. These ladies can SING!"
The Logos recently were part of a public-speaking engagement with Harry Lennix (of "The Five Heartbeats" and other films) and plan to make more appearances in the future. "We'd like to perform this summer in housing projects, at city parks, where we feel we'll be able to bring our message to city youth - that's the most important goal for us."
The current hip-hop scene troubles Aaron. "I think hip-hop is still searching for an identity; in fact it's become too much like the WWF -- too much emphasis on the personalities, fights between Jay-Z and Nas that lead to arguments between their fans. No one can be sure whether this sort of thing is for real or just manufactured. It's hard for kids to be able to differentiate between what's reality and show biz, and that's all the more reason why we're so driven to pour positive messages into the hip-hop industry."
Their songs don't preach, and their lyrics speak clearly to life in the real world: "Realize I'm here to open up your eyes; keep 'em closed if you wanna, keep keepin' it real; but I hope you meet God before you meet steel" - an example from one of their earliest songs called "Stop Lookin'".
It's not just a quest for recognition that drives The Logos -- they're sincerely committed to their mission. As much as they'd like to be launched into the public awareness, Aaron says they won't compromise their standards. "We'd love to sign with a major label, and we're working toward that. But we won't buckle under to some record executive asking us to change the word 'God' to something else. We don't want to water down our message. We want to keep it in its purest form, whatever it takes."
What it takes is a lot of their own money to improve Exodus Studios, press the CDs, get the artwork and posters created and distributed. Day jobs are an absolute must -- and the dedicated songwriters put in full work weeks while they continue to collaborate on their writing and composing, caring for their families and participating in charitable works.
Artie Bates is a former pre-school teacher who's turned to a real estate career. Aaron works at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, producing a morning radio show and working with the Center's many Christian-based youth and family activities.
Shawn Thomas is a compliance officer with a major financial firm. On September 11th he was at his desk in the second tower of the World Trade Center. When the first airplane hit the first tower, the lights began to flicker in his office, and Shawn instantly gathered his colleagues and encouraged others he passed along the way to evacuate the building. He made it out alive and has recently returned to work for the same company. "He said he could feel the stairs shaking and moving as he made his way down, and all he could think of were his friends who were working on the floors above the planes' targets," Aaron says.
"The World Trade Center attacks changed some perspectives in the population in general, but we'd hoped that those changes would be longer-lasting. It seems people are getting comfortable again - and that's why it's more important than ever for us to keep plugging away, keep working and keep spreading the word through our songs."
Another of their lyrics says "Your spirit's like your mind, a terrible thing to waste."
The Logos never waste a moment. If spirit is strength, and commitment is power, they should be all over the airwaves any minute now.
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