Megan Correa, aka LiL MC, shown here at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, is leading a Hip-Hop program at Freight & Salvage. Credit: Nick Kasimatis

After a year of bringing “Hip-Hop is Folk Music” assemblies into Berkeley schools, Freight & Salvage is now hosting the education program in its own space in downtown Berkeley.  Bay Area Hip-hop artist Megan Correa, aka LiL MC, is leading the jam sessions, known as cyphers.

“Essentially, a cypher is just a sharing circle. We’ve all been doing cyphers our whole lives,” Correa said. “Hip-Hop is so deeply rooted in community and culture and in being around like-minded individuals…you need to have a space for people to come join and take part in it and a cypher is the perfect way for that to happen.” 

Hip-Hop cypher at the Freight, 2020 Addison St., Sun. Dec. 11, 3-5 p.m.

LiL MC aims to create a place where aspiring artists and people who want to learn more about the music can come together and share raps, write lyrics, freestyle, explore beatmaking, and learn about the history and evolution of Hip-Hop.

“Hip-Hop is Folk Music” began as a part of the Freight’s “Playing with Tradition” program, which uses contemporary music as the doorway through which young people can enter a larger world of musical traditions and cultures. Guest teachers for the “Playing with Tradition” program have included spoken-word artist Jamey Williams, Hannah Mayree of the Black Banjo Reclamation Project, percussionist Rohan Krishnamurthy, rappers Najee Amaranth and Amani Jade, and others. 

Jamey Williams teaches rap to kids enrolled in BUSD’s BEARS summer 2021program. Credit: Cheshire Isaacs

Through partnerships with the Berkeley Unified School District’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, Freight & Salvage paired LiL MC with longtime Freight performer and banjo instructor Evie Ladin. Together, they traveled to the three public middle schools in Berkeley, presenting musical assemblies that showed Hip Hop as a folk music form through both historical explanation and musical collaboration. “Hip-Hop is for the people by the people, and folk music is the same way,” Correa said. 

By presenting Hip-Hop in a jam at Freight & Salvage, the venue and nonprofit community arts organization hopes to reframe conversations about what is and isn’t “folk.” 

“The broader goal of ‘Hip-Hop is Folk Music’ is to help locate hip-hop squarely in the American folk continuum, reminding folks that this music, like other folk traditions, started with people making music with whatever tools they happened to have around at the time,” said PC Muñoz, the Freight director of Education and Community Engagement. “Because of the Freight’s reputation around the U.S. and the world as a home for folk and traditional music, we feel it’s important to contribute and engage with national and international conversations about the definition of folk music, and lead the way when necessary.”

LiL MC said the Freight bringing hip-hop in-house comes at a perfect time: “Honestly, there’s not a lot of spaces that hold cyphers like this anymore, especially after the pandemic… I think it’s amazing that the Freight is offering this on-site for all members of the community, from kids to adults. Having these kinds of events is what’s going to bring us together.” 

Muñoz said that presenting the “Acoustic Hip-Hop Cypher” on-site at the Freight simultaneously engages both new and longtime Freight & Salvage patrons, who might not be aware of the thriving “Playing with Tradition” education programs in the schools. 

“Our first cypher on Oct. 30 included attendees who were middle schoolers, as well as senior citizens, and that broad range is what true community music-making is all about,” Muñoz said.

LiL MC will host a cypher at the Freight on Sunday, Dec. 11, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. She’ll be back with another “Acoustic Hip Hop Cypher” in February. Her goal is for anyone who shows up, “to leave feeling accomplished and excited, and feeling like they built a community with people that shared a new experience.”