Swizz Beatz may have been the main attraction, but the kids from the Bronx Charter School for the Arts stole the show at the “Music-versity: Power of One” event at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum put on by Music Unites Thursday morning (Jan. 17).
The event included a Q&A between Swizz and Billboard editorial director Bill Werde, as well as short speeches by NYC councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) and Music Unites founder Michelle Edgar and performances by MU ambassadors Candace Lee and Kyle Alfred, the Women’s Academy of Excellence guitar program, and Bronx Charter School for the Arts’ students.
Swizz operates as an ambassador for Music Unites — a non-profit that looks to bring music education to under-resourced inner-city schools — bringing awareness and creativity to the organization’s projects. The Bronx Charter School for the Arts is a public elementary school that uses arts education as a catalyst for the success of its students. This past December, Music Unites brought kids from their program into the studio with Swizz, where he spoke and showed them around.
“I just want to infuse so much positive energy into [the kids],” he said after the Music-versity event. “Beyond music, you never know what those kids go home to… That one thing that they might have to go home to and deal with that nobody knows about? [Our] conversation, that experience, might be the only thing that puts a smile on their face.”
There were plenty of smiles to go around throughout the event, as more than 200 students and adults filled the Howard Lutnick Theater. Lee and Alfred led the auditorium in a singalong of their original Music Unites theme song — with its chorus of “the sky’s not the limit, it’s just the view” lifted from a quote from Swizz himself — while the students’ closing performance of “Have A Little Faith In Me” in front of a video screen was a clear highlight of the event.
Swizz’s Q&A with Werde had the rapper/producer recounting his youth growing up in the South Bronx, his troubles outside of school that caused his family to move to Atlanta, his dedication to rise above the negativity to become one of Atlanta’s most famous DJs, and then his move back to New York to join his uncle’s Ruff Ryders record label that allowed him to begin working with the likes of Noreaga, Busta Rhymes and, eventually, DMX, whose “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” became Swizz’s first big hit as a producer.
Along the way, Swizz was full of inspirational messages for the children in the audience. “A lot of artists think if you do drugs you’ll make the best music – if you dream big you’ll make the best music,” he said, explaining why he generally shies away from drugs and alcohol. “You have to invest in yourself and your surroundings.”
Following Werde’s questions, elementary schooler Destiny Gonzalez — who won an essay contest for the privilege — fired off a series of questions for Swizz, asking him what his favorite color was (it’s red, for the record) and what his hobbies were (even loudly interjecting to correct the producer when he thought she had said “habits”) in one of the more adorable moments, of which there were several.
His involvement with Music Unites is not the only civic venture for the Bronx native: last September he was named Global Ambassador for New York City’s Public Hospitals, helping to raise $250 million toward the re-opening of Harlem Hospital and honoring Dr. John Cordice, who helped treat Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958.
“I think it all ties together,” Swizz said. “There hasn’t been a change in the hospital system, especially in a place like Harlem, in years… Then it all ties into this education component. They all go together.”
While Music Unites’ initial push for music education is beginning in New York City, the organization’s larger goal looks further than the five boroughs. “Music Unites is an amazing start for this world,” said Swizz. “Music is the universal language.”
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