High School for Recording Arts LA Remix

The High School for Recording Arts Los Angeles is the second in a series of remixes on the culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogies of Hip-Hop Based Education (Alim & Paris, 2018). The first school, High School for Recording Arts, opened in St. Paul, MN in 1998. David “TC” Ellis, having already experienced a storied career as one of Minnesota’s first rap artists, decided to use his own experiences as a musician and student to open a new school for young people. The idea was spawned when students who reminded him a lot of himself started clamoring for time in his recording studio.

An HSRA LA student working diligently on his production.

An HSRA LA student working diligently on his production.

Initially, TC shrugged them off, requiring payment from “serious” artists in exchange for studio time. After all, TC was a businessman and this was his business. Eventually, their youthful persistence paid off when, one day, TC decided to let them use the spare 30 mins between his paying clients. In those 30 minutes TC’s mind would be forever changed. In this short amount of time, the youth had made better music than most of his clients and they hadn’t even graduated high school yet. In fact, they had left high school altogether. Why, with all of this talent and genius, could the young people in TC’s studio not graduate high school? TC asked and they answered. Their answers echoed the racism, erasure, lack of safety, and continued prejudice and stereotyping that has become the narrative of America’s public education system, the narrative of America itself.

Students and staff of HSRA LA with the founder of HSRA MN - David "TC" Ellis (far right) - and former NFL player/sound engineer Dave Hayes (center).

Students and staff of HSRA LA with the founder of HSRA MN - David "TC" Ellis (far right) - and former NFL player/sound engineer Dave Hayes (center).

The first part of HSRA’s story, the birth of our first school, holds so much important knowledge and wisdom as an origin story. TC’s incredible modeling and lived experience serve as a textbook for school leaders everywhere. TC’s own lived experience as a student of alternative education and a professional hip-hop artist positioned him to see the needs of his community and provide the proper resources and leadership to make a school for the recording arts, rooted in hip-hop culture, a reality. As well, his initial instinct to deny the young people coming to his studio the opportunity when they first asked set a powerful precedent on the studio as a sacred space that persists in our schools to this day. In these moments, TC created an attraction rooted in the economics of scarcity around the studio as an opportunity normally reserved for those capable of paying for it. This dynamic allowed TC, a professional-recording-artist-turned-school-founder, to leverage the studio to maintain high expectations for student academic work as he built his first program. Today, school staff leverage the recording studio to draw out the best possible academic and creative work from their students. TC and Tony Simmons, HSRA MN’s Executive Director, also maintain high standards of quality for any product released and promoted by HSRA’s student-run record label, Another Level Records, which encourages students to aim higher than they otherwise might.

A student of HSRA LA at the Canon Burbank studio for a field trip focused on the photo/video components of the recording industry.

A student of HSRA LA at the Canon Burbank studio for a field trip focused on the photo/video components of the recording industry.

On September 4th, 2018, we opened a pilot version of our second remix, the new High School for Recording Arts Los Angeles in downtown Los Angeles, CA. We chose Los Angeles as our first city to open a new site because of the tremendous number of opportunity youth living in Los Angeles county. According to USC’s Neighborhood Data for Social Change, there are over 16,000 opportunity youth in the LA Unified School District’s catchment area alone (2019). Opportunity youth are defined as young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are both out of work and out of school. Combine the staggering statistics regarding opportunity youth in Los Angeles with the robust nature of LA’s recording and entertainment industries and the logic for a High School for Recording Arts in Los Angeles cannot be denied.

HSRA LA students advocating for a reduction in the number of restrictions placed on formerly incarcerated people. Currently there are over 38,000 restrictions placed on convicted felons once released, which perpetually continues their "time served."

HSRA LA students advocating for a reduction in the number of restrictions placed on formerly incarcerated people. Currently there are over 38,000 restrictions placed on convicted felons once released, which perpetually continues their "time served."

Best practices for alternative schools mandate as much attention be paid to providing students with wrap-around services and vocational training as is given to academic components of schooling (Moore, 2011). In our first, pilot year, we have enrolled over 25 students, visited recording studios frequented by some of the world’s top recording artists, invited Grammy-winning guests into our own recording studio for collaborations and master classes, started our own, student-run business making music for other businesses in our community, produced and released our first music video, performed at the world-renowned Deeper Learning conference, appeared in Netflix-produced music videos, and certified a majority of our students in the basics of sound engineering and musical production. Our students have become cultural ambassadors and activists in their communities, taking part in ballot-day events to get out the vote and working to pass AB 329, a bill that prohibits police from using “fear” as a reasonable excuse to employ the use of deadly force. Perhaps most importantly, though, for the health and wellbeing of our students and their families, we have successfully placed half of our students in paid internships in the music industry. You can find out more about our school at www.hsrala.com Please don’t hesitate to reach out, spread the word, and send love from wherever you’re at! In the words of the late, great Nipsey Hussle, “We’re not the cause, we’re the effect.” When it comes to the youth of HSRA LA, Nipsey’s words could not be more accurate.


Sources cited:

Paris, D., & Alim, H. Samy. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies : Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world (Language and literacy series). New York: Teachers College Press.

Moore A.. (2016) Reengagement: Bringing students back to America's schools. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 

Michael LipsetComment