TRGGR NEWS: Happy New Year. Our radio show was recently featured in a cover story for the Valley Advocate (January 11-17, 2007). In case you’re wondering what we’ve been up to, check out this piece. There will definitely be more to come in 2007. Peace.
A Locally Based National Collaborative Uses Hip-hop To Educate, Inspire And Revolutionize.
January 10, 2007
Article and Photos by Kendra L. Thurlow
They wouldn’t stop laughing. It was infectious. During our photo shoot, Chris Tinson, Anthony “Tone” Ratcliff and Carlos “Rec” McBride slung jokes back and forth, mocking each other—mainly, Carlos got it about being short—almost like brothers. The three are members of TRGGR, a multi-pronged grass roots hip-hop collective.
Although TRGGR was conceptualized years ago, it wasn’t actualized until 2003, when Tinson and McBride met at UMass. The moniker TRGGR attempts to convey the quest for “knowledge of self and community education,” using the medium of hip-hop—its music, politics, culture and communities. The members of TRGGR hope to trigger new lines of thought about how individuals fit into specific societies.
“We’re talking about a vision that gets us out of a mold that thinks, ‘Hey, it’s all about money, it’s all about whether or not you can sell your records that makes you a viable artist,’” says Tinson in a recent interview with the Advocate . “So we’re talking about a society that’s truly equal—that stands by ideas and values and upliftment. Community education that’s committed to really developing a value system around what we call culture.”
TRGGR is a think tank whose goal is to connect people in black, Latino and other oppressed communities with people from those same communities who have broken the mold of expectation—people who have grown up on the street, and left it.
“The idea behind TRGGR specifically,” says Tinson, “is really to make sure that community folk and academic folk are in dialogue with each other.” That notion of open dialogue and connectedness between street life and academia is something that the members of TRGGR are particularly committed to for personal reasons: they’ve all been on both sides of the equation. All three members are in either doctoral or graduate programs now, but each one grew up in a community where street life was life.
McBride moved around a lot as a kid, eventually ending up in Springfield’s North End, then Brooklyn. After dropping out of school after ninth grade and becoming a parent at an early age, he took to the streets, holding his own by whatever means necessary. Eventually he decided to make a change in his life and won a scholarship to Hampshire College. After Hampshire, McBride graduated from the Social Justice in Education M.A. program at UMass Amherst and is now a doctoral student in UMass’s Language, Literacy and Culture program.
McBride is also the director of Teen Resource Project in Holyoke, an after-school program that works with teens from several schools in Holyoke. The mission of Teen Resource Project is to use open dialogue, computer work, dance, mural projects, tutoring sessions and more to promote goal empowerment, leadership, liberation and community involvement, with the ultimate goal of enabling the students to rise above the repressive situations they’re in.
McBride uses himself as an example, proving to the students that change is possible and opening their eyes to other avenues besides crime, drugs, early parenthood or welfare. “They know that I’m street, but that I’m also working on my doctorate,” says McBride. “If you can’t make them stay [at the center] just by being who you are, then what’s the point?”
Tinson grew up in Compton, L.A. and moved to Amherst in 2003 after earning a master’s in U.S. Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. Ratcliff is originally from Long Beach, Calif. and has a master’s in African-American Studies from Morgan State University. Both are currently doctoral students in the UMass Amherst African-American Studies department.
TRGGR’s MySpace page says, “[TRGGR] is a meeting ground of grassroots Hip Hop culture, music and politics. Instead of its common association with guns and violence, we use the term to connote the sparking of ideas, the TRGGRing of new ways of thought, new ways of being, different and courageous ways of seeing ourselves and our role in society and in the world… We seek to TRGGR discussions with topics that speak to and illuminate the conditions that we as a global Hip Hop generation find ourselves in, with specific focus on people of color, poor and working class, oppressed and repressed communities.”
While other communities—mainly white—are not excluded from TRGGR, the demographics that the members represent are targeted. “We are people who feel responsible to a particular community,” says Tinson. “We feel that what we need to represent is the best of the communities that we come from. The fact is that these folks really could go through a whole day and not hear anything about what’s going on in the so-called black community. So we feel that that’s our primary goal—to represent those voices and experiences.”
While there are people who contribute to the TRGGR project all over the country, the majority of TRGGR-related activities take place in the Valley.
One part of TRGGR is still in its infancy—a literary magazine called TRGGR: A Journal of Grassroots Intellectual Thought . For now (the magazine isn’t in print yet) there is TRGGR Pre Zine , a preview, posted online at http://www.trggrzine.blogspot. While most contributors to the zine have scholarly credentials, its pieces are not overly academic. The zine includes poems like “Mymerica” by Allia Matta, written in the voice of a racist. There are also CD reviews, short stories (including one about welfare dentists), and essays like Ratcliff’s “Crisis of the Hip-Hop Intellectual.” The first edition of TRGGR: A Journal of Grassroots Intellectual Thought is expected sometime in 2007.
TRGGRRadio, a weekly show on Valley Free Radio (a community radio station based in Florence) run by Ratcliff and Tinson, started in 2005. “We hope that Valley Free Radio becomes a go-to station for the Valley,” says Tinson. “The uniqueness of it is that nobody is paid. TRGGRRadio wouldn’t be possible without these particular airwaves. That’s our home, so we’re committed to that and to building it.”
Weekly playlists are created around a specific theme. “We pretty much just exchange ideas. They can be inspired by things we see in the news to projects that we’re working on personally, to an issue that comes up in the classes we teach [at UMass],” says Tinson. The songs range from late ‘70s and ‘80s hip-hop to cutting edge tunes from 2006, including songs by De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest and The Roots. The difference between TRGGRRadio’s playlists and other hip-hop radio shows is commercialization. Because TRGGRRadio is broadcast on Valley Free Radio, its DJs are not beholden to play the brand of commercial hip-hop that focuses on “bitches” and “hos,” music that contradicts TRGGR’s purpose. “We’re not going to have to play certain records so that certain people get paid,” says Tinson. “I think that’s the best of radio.”
The music is interspersed with conversation between Tinson and Ratcliff on subjects ranging from the statistics on imprisoned young black men to something as abstract as love. Often they interview guests, such as Philadelphia-based poet Ursula Rucker, and air pre-recorded interviews by other DJs, including Davey D. Time is also reserved for fielding questions by callers, often prison inmates. “Every week incarcerated people call in… For the most part people who are coming out of prison want to know what they can do to get work and then also just to be part of what we’re doing,” says Tinson. “We try to serve as a resource and a reference—give them hotline numbers, resource centers, places they can go.”
“We’re trying to make a difference in people’s lives,” Tinson adds. “If a particular song that we play has a message in it… and somebody just stumbles on the station and they say, ‘Wow, I heard this song,’ and they called next week and asked to play that song because, ‘Wow, you totally changed my thinking about this and that and can I hear that song again?’… that happens. And if that happens just one time, then we’re doing our work well.”
To learn more about TRGGR or to get involved, call (413) 230-9952; tune into TRGGRadio on [WMUA, Amherst 91.1FM http://www.wmua.org] & WXOJ-LP Valley Free Radio, 103.3FM, every Friday Night from 8-10 p.m.; or check them out at http://myspace.com/trggrradio.