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The Times did a Q&A with Little Rock's Epiphany, a regular presence on the Arkansas hip-hop scene for years, about his trip with producer Ferocious to Gambia in Western Africa at the behest of the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Banjul. This version has been edited for length. Go here to see some of Epiphany's photos from the trip.
What prompted your recent trip to Gambia?
The U.S. Embassy. I had a friend from school, and about three years ago they contacted me and were like, "Hey, we'd like you to come down here and teach," and they said they just had to get the money together, and eight weeks ago they contacted me and were like, "Hey, if you still want to do it, we want you to teach, work with the artists, arrange a show," and I was like, "cool." The teaching aspect was going to middle school and teaching about the aspects of hip-hop. Then I worked with 10 of the top Gambian artists there to create new music. And the show actually ended up being real dope because they ended up linking with a third party corporation, Africell. It ended up I was the feature and there were 6,000 to 7,000 people there. It was crazy, and there were billboards in the street and everything like that. It was way more than what I expected. It went from teaching to this huge concert.
Did you teach the kids?
In terms of teaching, each class was two to three hours. I taught them the four elements of hip-hop. Because all they know there is Drake, Lil Wayne and Kanye. They don't even know any of the aspects besides MCing and DJing. I also went down with a producer named Ferocious. So he went on the production team to talk a lot about the DJing aspect. We made it really interactive. We made them choose hip-hop names to represent themselves and made them write a rap. We taught them the premises of production work. We spoke on the three main factors you can take from the culture of hip-hop and use in your everyday life — creativity, discipline and communication.
How was the concert?
The concert was great. When we got there, we had a huge press conference. It was a huge stage, two big video monitors on the side. Also, the Gambian artists each had 10-minute slots and I had a 45-minute slot, but because I know so much stuff works off of familiarity, I integrated them in my show, so actually it wasn't just me.
In all my songs I would replace one of my verses and have them come out. So I had about 15 special artists come out. So if I had a hook that was like a singing hook, I would have one of them come out and sing in their native tongue of Wolof/Mandinka, so it was pretty much an integration of their style and mine. And actually in the middle — they said they were beat boys, but they acted almost more like street performers. They were on stage flipping off of each other's shoulders and spinning on their heads and throwing each other around. It was real cool.
What were some of your most memorable experiences from the trip?
There are three of them. The show was on Saturday, and we flew out Tuesday night and we had one more class to teach on Tuesday, and so it was a class on the outskirts of Banjul, so it was definitely more impoverished, and it was all female. And we were tired. So it was one of those things where it was like, we'll finish it up, but we were definitely tired. We weren't as amped as we were for other stuff. So we got to the school and did our talk. It went really well and the students, you could tell they were way more disciplined and attentive than the other students. One of their traditions is to have one of their students come up and give appreciation. So they chose four students. And one came up and was real meek and was stumbling over her words and the teacher was like, "Since you don't want to come out of your shell, say your poem." So she said it again, and the girl transformed and started doing the Maya Angelou poem "Phenomenal Woman," so it was like this meek, 13-year-old all of a sudden is not just acting out the words, but is believing every word of "Do my curves, my hips intimidate you," and all that stuff. And so one, it was just impactful because, after she finished, she was a different person, she was confident, she was speaking articulately. When we had them all do raps, we helped her believe from our story that you can accomplish anything. She really was encouraged by our coming there.
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