ME Entertainment:
Community Change through Hip Hop

by
Nick Sousanis

 

 

To many, graffiti, rap, or hip hop, imply vandalism, violence, and gang culture. Trying to change this image and convince people that hip-hop is in fact a legitimate and vital culture can be an uphill battle. But that's exactly what the people behind the multimedia group ME Entertainment have in mind. The four member outfit utilizes hip-hop culture to bring about positive change in their community.

Over the next two months ME Entertainment brings its message to the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, for "Off Tha Wall", an exhibition of graffiti art. Through such things as break dancing competitions, Dj battles, forums, documentaries, and other unique events, they will be exposing aspects of the hip-hop community to an art gallery setting. (The exhibition opens Saturday, May 14. For a detailed listing of all the related events go to www.caidonline.org.)

While this event represents an important accomplishment for the group and a significant spotlight on the hip-hop community, it is but one aspect of all that ME Entertainment has in mind. But first a little background about who they are and how they came to be:

The seeds of the company were put in motion in 2002, when Lex, 19 at the time, conceived a hip-hop Olympics for Detroit which would serve to launch this fledgling outfit. This Olympics is a celebration and competition centered around the four cornerstones of hip-hop: graffiti, breakdancing, emceeing, DJing. This project ended up going from being its own isolated event, to becoming a part of the Youth Empowerment Summit held at Hart Plaza. With such a big task at hand, Lex brought in his brother-in-law Jose Salas, himself a former successful DJ, as a partner to help promote the music and other logistical elements of the Olympics. Together they pulled off this initial event, and when the following year's event rolled around, rapper "Supreme" came on board to coordinate the emcee battle and do other consulting work for ME. Soon, Supreme and Salas' Dj buddy Keith ("White Boy") became part of the team.

They describe the breakdown of labor as such: Lex is the idea guy, the man with a plan to make a splash in the community; Supreme deals with the marketing of the idea, he finds ways to make people want to go to it; and Jose and Keith in general put it all together and make it happen. Together they have been at the game of promoting hip hop culture and empowering Southwest Detroit youth ever since their initial partnership.

ME has its offices within the non-profit Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation's 28,500 square foot Corktown headquarters. Since its founding in the living room of Executive Director Angela Reyes (Lex's mother), this agency has grown a great deal to include a staff of over 40 to better serve its mission of empowering Detroit's Southwest community by offering education, job training, health services, counseling, and community activism training. (For more on DHDC go to their website. Metro Times did a recent feature on them which can be found here)

ME retains a close and interconnected relationship with the DHDC, as each of the guys of ME work for DHDC, serving as youth specialists, community organizers, and generally helping with the daily operations of the center. As the separate entity of ME Entertainment, they can do things the non-profit DHDC can't. For instance they put on fundraising events with all the proceeds going to benefit the center. This includes such things as "The Game: Getting Active in My Environment." In addition to being a 3 on 3 basketball tournament, the Game also offers voter registration, political awareness, free HIV testing, and introduces people to all the various programs available through DHDC. This past year, ME also held two break dancing competitions where all the proceeds went towards youth space and programming at the center. "Rock the Bells" at Christmas and "Shamrock the Floor" at, well you know. Both fundraisers are slated to become annual events.

In addition to their direct fundraising for the DHDC, ME is giving back by sharing a percentage of the profits from their own independent projects. Their vision goes beyond producing events like the annual hip-hop Olympics and "Off Tha Wall," to become a truly and fully multimedia operation, and they have set to separating their company into distinct divisions to accomplish just that. Millimeter Films has been established to handle video and film production, and just completed its first documentary (about the gang life and death of Detroiter Philippe Torres). Their record label "Dirty Politix," though only 3 months old, already features 10 artists, with four releases on the way. They have also established the Urban Arts Academy within the auspices of the DHDC to teach music and video production, break dancing, graffiti, and teach general entrepreneurship. (Not a bad way of training future members of ME Entertainment!)

Over the course of our interview we've gone from room to room adjoining the DHDC's main recreation room dubbed "The Cypher." Filled with pool tables and other recreational entertainment (including space for the break dance troupe "Hardcore Detroit" to train), this room is entirely decorated with graffiti murals that are changed from time to time to liven the space up. We drop into their newly created sound room to watch a music video that brings all aspects of what ME and DHDC are all about together. This was rushed into production a few weeks back to showcase how technology can save lives at a technology breakfast fundraiser presentation to the mayor and other local government and business leaders. Written and performed by Supreme with backup vocals by Dirty Politix artist Xiomara Torres, "Slow Down"'s lyrics and imagery focus on the two major causes of death in Latino communities, violence and AIDS. It's a powerful piece, but Supreme makes sure to point out that, "It's not that I do positive music. I don't. I do real music." Of course, he's overstating it a bit, all of these guys are about positivity, it's just that they don't try to conceal the reality of the environment they've come from and seek to change from within. The video is about the community and for the community, just like ME themselves.

The video might be titled "slow down," but the guys of ME Entertainment are doing anything but that. There's a lot to do and a lot of sleepless nights ahead of them. With energy and dedication to spare (and perhaps a few cans of Red Bull!), these guys are making their distinct mark, and the community of Southwest Detroit is all the better for their efforts.

 

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