Updated: Jun 28, 2019
This year marks the fourth anniversary of Rap2Rep, a music competition run by Accountability Lab Liberia and iLab Liberia in partnership with USAID Liberia Accountability & Voice Initiative (LAVI). Run as a talent hunt, Rap2Rep is a first-of-its-kind music competition searching for promising first-time Liberian hipco music artists who support greater public representation and good governance. The competition is growing rapidly and since 2016 has become a network of musicians, filmmakers, DJs and media professionals who are catalyzing change through their songs.
Exclusively organized and rolled out by iCampus Liberia, the 2019 edition of Rap2Rep was a remarkable experience that included not only mentorship for contestants, but also a week-long media publicity roadshow and an awards ceremony, where iCampus awarded winners with certificates and prizes - before an audience of approximately two thousand guests! It was hosted on March 2 at the Sports Commission in Monrovia. Roberto Nelson emerged as the winner in first place and received a number of valuable recording slots at iCampus Studios for his upcoming album. He will also be featured at a number of key iCampus events and will collaborate with other top musicians.
Prior to the awards ceremony, iCampus received over 100 entries from rising artists across different record houses and communities in central Montserrado County region.
Entries were carefully reviewed by New Media Lab Studios, also housed at iCampus, and an expert panel of judges including Zubin Cooper, Rickslyn Myers and Beatmaster participated. Out of the cohort of contestants who applied, this year’s top five finalists also included Lovetta Harmon, Roberto Nelson and Osman Ali. Each of the finalists were supported to produce a song around LAVI’s advocacy theme that promoted policy reform and budget investments across the education sector.
Overall, the competition gives rising hipco stars a platform to make their voices heard, connect with socially-conscious leaders in the music industry and build the skills they need to shape the future of the country through song. Here is a list of lessons we learnt from the latest Rap2Rep campaign.
Providing mentorship to build the capacity among underground artists
Underground artists make up a greater percentage of Liberia’s rising stars. They are gifted in music but often lack the required experience and skills needed to make impact through their songs. Because they are often unnoticed by the Liberian hipco industry - a system that combines local dialects with rap, R&B and Afro-pop beats - underground artists are usually seen singing from street corners - or at home in their bathrooms! As part of an approach to build artist knowledge and skills, Rap2Rep offers free skills training for its contestants through mentorship sessions on given topics. These include social advocacy, stage management, content production and brand marketing.
This year’s contestants underwent a week’s-long mentorship course taught by well-known Liberian musicians including JB-Soul Fresh, Henry Amaze, Soul Smither and Lady Skeet. The mentorship doesn’t only seek to develop the artists’ musical skills, but is also intended to expose them to top musicians who are knowledgeable about how the ‘music for social change’ approach works, and how ideas from that approach can be passed down to Rap2Rep contestants.
As a result of filling in these knowledge gaps, artists are enabled to kick-start their musical careers on a positive footing as they are supported to properly represent their communities as ambassadors of change across diverse development landscapes in Liberia and beyond.
Leveraging youth voices in information-sharing across development sectors
Apart from being a musical campaign that sparks the passion of talented young Liberians, Rap2Rep is also a platform for the inclusion of youth voices in nation-building processes. Several years back, Liberian youths were widely regarded as agents of violence given their participation in wars and civil uprisings. The emergence of the hipco network provided a new phase that allowed young people to voice their opinions through music rather than through violent means as was previously seen in the country. Accountability Lab Liberia established a subcomponent of hipco, called the ‘Accountability Hipco Network’ or ‘Music for Social Change Network’. As its name depicts, the Accountability Hipco Network is an institution of musicians who are transforming the social landscapes of the country with their rhythms.
Songs like ‘Know Who to Vote For’ and ‘Integrity’, sung by Henry Amaze Toe, played a major role in promoting accountability, love and peace among citizens during the 2018 elections.
The Rap2Rep 2019 cohort as well as its predecessors have been a huge part of national campaigns on social behavior change in the natural resource management sector, the healthcare sector and the education sector. This year, the contestants built songs around a USAID LAVI ‘More-4-Education’ theme that seeks to draw stakeholders’ attention to policy reform and budget increases for a better education system.
Click here for a full playlist of songs by Rap2Rep 2019 winners.