Hip-Hop Nation, BU Education
Student club delivers beats, fresh flow to GSU Plaza
Guillermo Antonini can pinpoint the exact moment he fell in love with hip-hop. His aunt had taken a 12-year-old Antonini to a Kanye West concert at the American Airlines Arena in Miami during the artist’s famed College Dropout Tour. It blew his mind.
“I don’t want to leave,” Antonini (SHA’13) remembers thinking that night. “I don’t care if I need to go to the bathroom. This is where I want to be.”
Antonini’s made good on that youthful wish. For the past eight years, he’s immersed himself in the hip-hop scene. Since arriving at BU three years ago, he has not only launched a music website from his freshman dorm (shout-out to Warren Towers Room 1102A), but become the moving force behind the student club Boston University Hip-Hop. In addition, he’s promoted rising hip-hop artists in the area through events like 12for12 Boston Cypher at the Green Street Jungle.
Oh, and he managed to do it all while earning enough credits to graduate in just six semesters.
Born in Venezuela and raised in Miami, Antonini moved to Boston hoping to find a vibrant hip-hop home here. Both his parents had attended college in Boston and often talked about the city’s diversity and lively cultural scene. But when he arrived in 2011, Antonini encountered a different reality. “It was tough that first six months,” he says. “I only knew the campus, and the campus wasn’t that diverse.”
Instead of complaining, Antonini got to work. He had a light academic load, thanks to a number of AP credits, and spent much of his time seeking out hip-hop everywhere. He attended concerts, started his blog, and later launched a Facebook group for hip-hop fans, which grew from 25 to 225 members in less than two years. Then he decided to move his diverse community of online friends to an offline space where they could discuss their “love for hip-hop as not only a musical genre, but as a culture relevant to our students”—an idea that morphed into BU Hip-Hop’s mission.
Club members were afraid meetings might be irrelevant, because, as Antonini says, “we can all sit down and have a discussion about who’s a better rapper, but we’re just going to have that same discussion every single week, every single year of our lives at BU.” That’s when they came up with cyphers, two-hour meetings each Wednesday on the George Sherman Union Plaza, where hip-hop fans could gather to rap stream-of-consciousness to smooth beats.
On a recent February evening, the sun was melting over Commonwealth Avenue when Antonini plopped a boom box down near a pile of snow. As he connected his iPhone to the system, a handful of students gathered in a circle. The young men shook hands and gave one another bro hugs as they shuffled around in heavy-duty boots, backpacks and headphones slung over their shoulders and around their necks.
The beat of Dido’s Thank You broke the silence first. Collectively, the amateur rappers’ heads bobbed with the beat, smiles on their faces as they caught the flow—one after another taking turns weaving words into the music. Each cypher has its own cadence, its own urgency, and the man with the mic poured his soul into quickly crafted phrases that often, miraculously, rhymed.
At the weekly cyphers, everyone participates, regardless of skill level. No topic is off limits. And no one leaves unhappy.
“We let it flow,” says Antonini, aka Yogi. “The only rule is, don’t rap too much. It’s really just freedom of expression. There’s no reason why we have to put any caps on it.”
At one point on this Wednesday, Howard (Howie D) dePass, Jr. (CAS’14) delivered a fresh freestyle that touched on his goals, weekend parties, London Study Abroad trip, and—in a play on words—his study of broads. (Few women attend the cyphers, which Antonini and others hope to change.)
“That was nasty!” Antonini declared, as others piled on praise. Ever the English major, dePass confessed: “I wrote that. I ain’t too proud for that sh*%.”
Throughout the evening the group’s circle expanded and contracted. Toward the end, a graduate student known to the club only as “TJ” showed up with his five-year-old son to spit out lyrics. Ka Po Lam (SMG’14) was told to “Filter, filter, filter!” his cyphers given the young ears listening.
For Antonini and his friends, cyphering is a mental workout, an emotional boost, and a means to create family within a sea of students. Antonini says that members have told him they appreciate the club “because I walk around campus and see faces I never would have known.”
It’s that opportunity to create a sense of community that jazzes Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, a huge hip-hop fan and club supporter. Elmore (SED’87) invited Antonini to rap in his entry in the Shorty Awards competition, an honor given to social media standouts. For some people, Elmore says, the club “might be the first time they’ve heard their voice, the first time they’ve been able to understand that they can make music.” He hopes the experience gives students a deeper appreciation for writing, poetry, and music in general.
Antonini says his hip-hop mission won’t end at graduation this spring. He plans to dedicate more time to promoting hip-hop artists in Boston and across neighboring college campuses. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll inspire others the way Kanye once inspired him.
Boston University Hip-Hop is promoting the Joey BadA$$ concert at BU Central, GSU basement, 775 Comm Ave, on Friday, March 1. The show is free and open to BU students, who can each bring a maximum of two guests. Doors open at 8 p.m. The show begins at 8:45 p.m.17 Comments