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Beat Making Lab opens on Franklin

Pierce Freelon and James Livingston, who goes by Median, are behind the new Emcee Lab, a class offered in the music department that will teach students how to be emcees.
Pierce Freelon and James Livingston, who goes by Median, are behind the new Emcee Lab, a class offered in the music department that will teach students how to be emcees.

UNC lecturers and local community members showcased their talents of singing, rapping, dancing and drum playing at the grand opening of Chapel Hill’s Community Beat Making Lab Friday at the Street Scene Teen Center.

The idea for The Chapel Hill Community Beat Making Lab stemmed from the beat-making class at UNC. The Community Beat Making Lab was founded by Stephen Levitin, aka Apple Juice Kid, and Freelon.

“This started a couple years ago. Steve and I started a class, brought in Pierce and it keeps expanding,” said Mark Katz, chairman of the music department.

The Beat Making Lab is a place for residents of the Triangle area to learn how to create beats and record songs. The lab is also located in a space under the post office in Chapel Hill. The space is a former storage area for the Chapel Hill Police Department.

Jim Orr, assistant director of Parks and Recreation, and police Chief Chris Blue were both key players in finding and approving the use of the space, Blue said.

The beat-making class went international when Freelon and Levitin traveled to various countries around the world to teach beat-making to students, and PBS documented their journeys in order to share their experiences with viewers online. The episodes take place in various countries, and a sneak preview of the next episode, which takes place in Ethiopia, was shown at the opening.

Katz also announced that the lab has received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of State so that students around the world can continue to learn the art of beat-making.

“It’s going to send not just beat-makers, but all of the hip-hop elements — so beat-makers, (disc jockeys), emcees, B-Boys, B-Girls — to six different countries and three different regions around the world for the purpose of cultural diplomacy and conflict resolution,” Katz said.

“This is a two-year program, and it’s really going to transform what we do and take it to the next level and do some great stuff.”

The grant will also allow the team of musicians to travel back to the U.S. in order to host workshops and concerts.

“The $1 million grant does not actually pay for programming in this space,” Freelon said.

“We still need your support and the community’s support to continue what’s happening right here on Franklin Street.”

Local artists provided much of the art and decor displayed in the Chapel Hill Community Beat Making Lab.

“It’s been a community effort,” Freelon said.

Sponsors for some of the lab’s equipment include Lenovo and Red Bull.

About 70 people attended the opening, including Chancellor Carol Folt.

“I love the fact that they brought this to kids in our community,” Folt said.

Gray Gerald, a 2013 UNC alumnus, said he took the beat-making class over the summer. His class was unique to others because it encompassed not only UNC students, but also local high school students who were just there to pick up beat-making skills for fun.

“It’s a creative environment filled with growth and learning,” he said.

The event ended with the musical sounds of Freelon’s rapping and Levitin playing on a drum. Freelon’s mother and six-time Grammy nominee, Nnenna Freelon joined in singing, as well as Toussa, a beat-making student from Senegal who rapped.

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