Hip Hop Community Takes Center Stage in New Initiative

The free program offers open mic and mentorship opportunities for Arkansas artists.

West coast rapper Murs
Photo courtesy of Murs.

On stage, hip hop artist Jeremiah Pickett is known as Baang. Family members gave him the nickname as a teen and the meaning has evolved into an acronym for Believe Aspire Achieve Now Go. 

“The theory is each one reach one,” he says. “If you can set a goal and achieve it, now it’s your responsibility to go and inspire somebody else.”

West Coast rapper Murs is following the “each one reach one” philosophy by providing mentorship to young artists like Baang through Groundwaves(AR). The hip hop open mic and mentorship program is a collaboration between Murs and Creative Arkansas Community Hub Exchange (CACHE). Murs originally launched the program in 2019 in conjunction with the Music District, which is located in Fort Collins, Colo.

With support from the Tyson Family Foundation, the Northwest Arkansas version of the program will be hosted for six months in downtown Springdale. Jesse Elliott, director of creative ecosystems at CACHE, says the initiative will help artists refine their skills, teach them how to navigate the music industry and support the development of the hip hop community.

Once a month through October, hip hop artists can sign up for a chance to perform in front of Murs and a live audience. The following day, Murs will provide one-on-one mentorship to participants. 

“It’s really interesting because those conversations go in all different directions,” Elliott says. “He’s just an amazingly generous soul who just genuinely loves hip hop and loves the artists who do it and loves the communities who do it.”

While open mic nights are fairly common, they don’t typically cater to hip hop artists, so it makes sense to have a home like the Music District in Colorado or CACHE in Arkansas where they can perform and receive feedback, Murs says. 

“It’s something that I wish someone had done for me when I was younger, there was somewhere where people could come, someone to talk to and work on things,” he says.

Murs wearing headphones
Photo courtesy of Murs.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Murs says he had multiple options when it came to mentorship, but in Northwest Arkansas (just like in Colorado) there’s yet to be a huge name rise out of the region so there’s no one accessible to talk to. Murs hopes to fill that mentorship void.

“I love shaping the future of hip hop, I feel it’s really important,” he says. “I think we missed out on that for a couple generations in hip hop music and you can tell from the quality of the music or the subject matter of the music.” 

Murs is already impacting Arkansas artists after just one session. Scott Weaver, a Rogers musician who raps under the name Sewlo, is new to performing and decided to get on stage in front of Murs in May. During his one-on-one mentorship session, he says Murs provided helpful advice such as practicing his lyrics while holding a microphone and running while rapping. 

“He saw some little tiny things that you can just do that’ll make a world of a difference because other people don’t do them,” Sewlo says.  

Spending time with Murs was also impactful for Baang. The Fayetteville musician started his professional career about a year ago. He left a job to pursue artistry full time about a month ago and says it meant a lot to speak with Murs. 

“Even to see yourself replicated in someone else, representation just means you can’t be what you can’t see,” Baang says. 

Murs knows well the power of representation. As a kid, Murs didn’t see a lot of people of color represented in Fine Art, on Broadway or in television, but he did see himself reflected in music. 

“Hip hop was a place that was dominated by people who looked like me and I felt like I belonged and it spoke to me,” he says. 

Hip hop is empowering because it was birthed out of a lack of resources in Black and Brown communities in uptown New York, Murs says. Growing up in inner city Los Angeles, Murs couldn’t learn to play instruments at schools because those programs were no longer provided. However, he still found a way to be musical through hip hop. 

“I think as human beings we naturally have a rhythm and we want to express ourselves in song as we’ve seen throughout the ages,” he says. “And usually there was someone in the community to shape that desire and find those people who wanted to be a voice for their community. We lost that in inner city school and hip hop provided that outlet.”

Jeremiah Pickett
Photo courtesy: Jeremiah Pickett

Through Groundwaves(AR), Murs is working to shape the voices of Arkansas performers like Baang who estimates there are at least 100 artists in the region who have created music videos or uploaded songs to streaming platforms and want to perform. While there is plenty of enthusiasm among aspiring artists, Baang say there simply hasn’t been much promotion of the artform in the region until now. 

“Groundwaves is one of the things that’s setting into motion what’s to come,” he says. “I think we’ll look back in a year, in 24 months and be like dang.” 

The next installment in the Groundwaves(AR) series is June 15 and the program runs through Oct. 20 with open mic events on Tuesdays and one-on-one mentorship sessions on Wednesdays. 

Sign ups are in-person only and begin at 5 p.m. each week at 214 S. Main St. in Springdale (the former Arts Center of the Ozarks). The open mic sessions begin at 6 p.m. The events are free and open to the community. 

More information about the program, including a complete schedule, is available here

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.