Good rap for Paterson? Yes — at this free recording studio for youth
"Keeping the kids off the street." That's a song sung by every social worker, in every decade. Basketball, baseball, the dance at the YMCA — anything to keep the kids out of trouble.
In Paterson, they've put that old tune to a new beat. Specifically Trap, Crunk, Drill, or Old School.
Kids can now book 60-minute slots at the Black Lives Matter Youth Center on 10th Avenue and — for free — record their own hip-hop tracks with an experienced engineer at the controls. They not only get valuable studio time at no cost (market price $40 an hour and up), but also advice. And that's really priceless.
"We all need that extra set of ears," said Zellie Thomas, executive director of the youth center. "Cause everyone thinks they sound great."
Black Lives Matter Youth Center addresses a problem
More than extra ears, what's needed in Paterson is extra activities. Supervised ones, geared to the interests of kids 16 to 24. Because some of the city's unsupervised activities have been less than inspiring.
There were 27 homicides and 101 shooting incidents in Paterson in 2022. While that number is a decline from the previous year, it isn't good news for the city.
"Our belief is that the safest communities don't have more police officers," Thomas said. "The safest communities have access to more resources. One of the main issues we always find in cities like Paterson is that there are not many outlets for recreation. Not all kids are into football or basketball."
But lots of kids are into music.
Especially in Paterson, where rap took center stage after Fetty Wap's platinum-selling "Trap Queen" shot to the top of the charts in 2015. Paterson, some predicted, would become the next Atlanta or Detroit. But Fetty himself landed in prison, and the rap scene he heralded never really took off — though not for lack of local talent.
"We have been pleasantly surprised by some of these kids," Thomas said. "Shocked at some of the talent."
Get in line for music studio time
Some three dozen kids have availed themselves of this opportunity since the Black Lives Matter Youth Center opened its mini-studio in November (the center is inspired by, but not directly affiliated with, the national Black Lives Matter organization). Ja'Seir Jackson, 18, a Paterson resident and student at Passaic County Technical Institute, is one of them.
"I went in originally to record a song, but at the time I wasn't in a song mood," he said. "So I came out with a freestyle."
This, he says, is a case of Paterson making news for the right reasons. "When people hear about Paterson, no offense, usually it's about killing," Jackson said. "To see a group of people come together to build a safe place for kids to come to on weekends, or even weekdays — that's really a big thing."
The studio setup is pretty basic. A soundproof booth, equipped with mic and headphones. And a desk — with an iMac and a mixer — where engineer Roderick Pannell works his magic. But that, nowadays, is all you need to get professional results.
"Me and the engineer always joke that if we had this opportunity, we'd always be in the studio," said Thomas, who teaches math at Paterson's P.S. 16 elementary school.
Kids have free rein to express themselves
After the kids record, Pannell and Thomas mix and master their tracks, and send them the file.
"We're not telling the kids what to sing or write about," Thomas said. "It's important for them to express themselves without censoring."
Not only is this a chance for kids to record their own material under professional conditions, it's also a chance to learn about professional standards.
"As an engineer, Roderick is giving a lot of guidance to the kids," he said. " 'No, do that over.' 'Maybe you should do this.' 'Change your delivery.'
"For a lot of the kids, this is their first time in the studio. They don't realize how fast time moves. Often, they will end up booking another session for another day. They're even more prepared the next time around."
Black Lives Matter Youth Center, 426 10th Ave., Paterson. 973 413-2210. The recording studio is open Saturdays to kids 16 to 24; bookings must be made in advance. GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-blm-paterson-start-their-first-youth-center
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ news: Aspiring kid rappers get studio time for free