Baltimore’s hip-hop scene and history are inextricably linked with the city’s culture in general. There are many grassroots organizations and platforms that seek to uplift and educate Baltimore City students, and Beats Not Bullets’ approach is creative and direct, mixing music education with business education while teaching students about the music industry at large.
Beats Not Bullets, the brainchild of Kevin “Ogun” Beasley, was started six years ago as a way to teach students in Baltimore how to produce and create music. Beasley was eventually joined by program coordinators MC Bravado and Brandon Lackey, both former Baltimore City Public School teachers as well as musicians, and the afterschool program’s special blend of positive impact, technical education, and networking has been a natural extension of their teaching practice. “We both began to contribute to Beats Not Bullets because we both missed teaching,” said Lackey. They are both program coordinators for Beats Not Bullets. The pair operates a record label called Label Necklace.
Beats Not Bullets was presented with one of six 2022 SXSW Community Service Awards last month in Austin, Texas. MC Bravado, Beasley, and Lackey traveled to Austin, and Dawuane Johnson (aka Bigwuaune), a BNB graduate, joined them on the trip and performed at the festival. “We use our platform to draw attention to programs exactly like Beats Not Bullets,” Lackey stated. “That’s exactly what we did at South by Southwest. We worked with several programs just trying to get eyeballs on all the excitement happening around the intersection of hip-hop and education because Rich and I are both former teachers in Baltimore City.”
Founded in 2016, Beats Not Bullets aims to increase middle- and high-school-age students’ knowledge of sound engineering and the recording industry. Participants learn to use instruments, computer software, and audio equipment to make music. Over 500 students have graduated from the program, which is staffed and funded by the nonprofit Dream Bigger Community Institute.
Bravado and Lackey are passionate about hip-hop and education and instilling entrepreneurial and financial literacy skills in Baltimore youth. They’ve partnered with local organizations to make sure these skills are taught. During the pandemic, BNB fundraised enough to have a physical cohort during the pandemic at their studio, bringing in hospital-grade air filtration systems. Beasley, along with DJ Five Star, also created a remote group for students to tap in. The program is currently at REACH! Partnership and Digital Harbor High School. Bravado and Lackey emphasize that they hope to expand nationally.
Tonight’s concert at Metro Gallery is a fundraiser for BNB featuring MC Bravado and BNB program alumni. Fifty percent of the ticket sales will go directly towards supporting the program. Proof of vaccination is required to attend the concert. You can purchase tickets here. If you’re unable to attend in person, you can donate to BNB here.
E. Brady Robinson took the photos below of MC Bravado, Kevin “Ogun” Beasley, and BNB students Eddie the Artist, Jay, Jordan, Tayybandz, and D Money.