DJ Rob Swift is scheduled to teach turntablism at the RHAPSODY Hip Hop camp this summer. The invitation-only camp is set to run July 28 through August 8 in Cleveland, Ohio, and teach students the four basic elements of Hip Hop: emceeing, b-boying, graffiti art and deejaying.

RHAPSODY is put on by the Progressive Arts Alliance (PAA), a non-profit that seeks to inspire kids through arts education. PAA puts on two camps prior to RHAPSODY that are open to all students. Those who show an exceptional level of passion and skill are then invited to RHAPSODY, whose aim is to allow kids to discover their full creative potential.

Swift says the nature of Hip Hop leaves no room for timidity. “You have to check your vulnerability and your awkwardness at the door,” he says.

Swift’s enthusiasm for the camp is evident in the way he talks about his students. He tells the story of a girl named Liz who was introverted when she showed up to the RHAPSODY camp last year. He could tell that she had a creative spirit because of her “expressive” clothing, which included mismatched socks.

Swift had his students battle each other on the turntables and Liz won. “The first time she smiled was when I handed her the $5,” he says, describing her reaction when he gave her the prize.

Swift talks about another student, a boy who had discipline issues. The boy wouldn’t stop talking, but when he realized that he was falling behind, he “talked less and focused more.”

“You don’t have to tell them, ‘Be quiet,’” Swift says. “They figure it out.”

The vision of the camp is to teach students about the history of Hip Hop and then encourage them to apply what they learn in their own self-expression. Rob Swift only teaches with turntables and vinyl. He says that compared to when he learned how to deejay, “the challenges I faced don’t exist” because of modern technology. He says that software programs can do the work of a deejay, but that they can’t take away the personal expression of a deejay.

PAA founder Santina Protopapa is happy to have Swift a part of the program.

“We really wanted Rob to be able to bring to the students what the most exemplary work in turntablism and deejaying today is like and how are all the different, or what are all the different avenues that a turntablist or deejay performs or collaborates in,” she says. “Rob is one of the best examples of that, whether it’s performing with a band or performing as a deejay crew or performing as a deejay spinning a party.”

DJ Rob Swift Fundraising For Rhapsody Summer Camp Scholarships

A member of the X-Ecutioners, Swift has worked with different artists across many genres, including Jay Z, Mos Def, Linkin Park and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also teaches his own deejay classes in New York at Scratch DJ Academy

Protopapa says that Swift’s joy in teaching students about the artform is evident by his work at RHAPSODY.

“Rob became really passionate about working with the kids,” she says. “So that’s like kinda the bonus that he got really connected to seeing the students really grow and flourish. We’ve seen varying levels of that with the artists we work with year-round and Rob in particular got really, really attached, which is very cool.”

Swift is part of a campaign to help raise money for scholarships for the students. 

He says the task to put on RHAPSODY is “daunting.” He says that as a non-profit, PAA has to find funds to fly in the teachers, including himself, to the camp. PAA also provides all of the equipment for the students.

The campaign’s goal is to raise $10,000 by July 17. A full scholarship is $500, but Swift says that anything helps.

“We don’t want people to think that just because I don’t have $100 to give,” he says, “they can’t contribute.”

Swift is frustrated that people don’t seem to care about Hip Hop education as much he does. He uses the example of how a Facebook post of a scantily clad woman can get thousands of “likes,” but when he posts about helping kids at this camp, it gets far less attention in comparison.

“People’s priorities,” Swift says, “seem to be in the wrong places.”

He continues by saying that this camp is a way to keep Hip Hop alive.

“You can complain about ignorant Rap or violent Rap,” he says. “Or you can do something about it. I think this camp is the best answer to the garbage that is part of Hip Hop today.”

RHAPSODY has featured several guest artists, including dancer Popmaster Fabel and turntablists DJ Cash Money and Grandwizzard Theodore, who is often credited with inventing the scratch. Protopapa says being able to see the history first-hand is what makes Hip Hop different from all other music cultures.

“To me, Hip Hop is this really special form of expression that we are so lucky to be able to meet the innovators and the pioneers of these artforms, this culture,” Protopapa says. “I’m a jazz musician and I’d love to sit down with the pioneers of be-bop, but they’re all gone. But Hip Hop is still young enough that we can meet and learn from all the people who’ve paved the way for us and I think that’s what’s so special to me about Hip Hop and motivates me to not only continue to learn more about Hip Hop culture, but also motivates me to be able to present the story of Hip Hop and its educational relevance.”

People can contribute to the RHAPSODY scholarship program here.

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