Oakland’s deeply rooted and dynamic Hip Hop culture is as much a creation of the city as it is the city. Art and activism converge in The Town, vibrantly expressed by those who have something to say and aren’t afraid to say it. Oakland’s Hip Hop musicians are the architects of their own movement, built of thought and sound, from scratch. When the San Francisco Symphony takes its cues from musicians like Kev Choice and AÏMA the Dreamer, it’s a heady mixtape of voices and viewpoints—a movement in sound.
Art and Activism, Connectivity and Creativity: Michael Morgan, Kev Choice, AÏMA the DRMR, DJ Lady Fingaz, Jenay Anolin from Mix’d Ingredients and San Francisco Symphony musicians Kelly Leon-Pearce, Nick Platoff, and Aaron Schuman share how Hip Hop culture embraces a prism of influences, viewpoints, and voices.
Music of Black Composers
Classical for Hip Hop Lovers
Hip Hop for Classical Lovers
Kev Choice, piano/composer/emcee
Kev Choice is a pianist, composer, emcee, producer, educator, and activist, hailing from Oakland, CA. He began studying piano and rapping at the age of eleven. After graduating from Skyline High School in Oakland, he went on to earn music degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana and Southern Illinois University. Kev has worked and toured with artists such as Lauryn Hill, Michael Franti, Goapele, Too Short, and more. His own band, Kev Choice Ensemble, combines elements of Hip Hop, Jazz, soul, funk, and classical to create his own unique sound as a pianist and lyricist. He has also produced five solo albums, including his most recent work Social Distancing, created while sheltering-in place. In 2018, he composed the orchestral Hip Hop work Soul Restoration Suite on commission from the Oakland Symphony. Kev Choice is currently on the faculty at Oakland School for the Arts, and he also serves as Vice-Chair of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission. For more on Kev Choice, visit kevchoice.wordpress.com.
AÏMA the DRMR, emcee/lyrics
Aima Paule, aka AÏMA the DRMR, is a multidisciplinary artist who has been performing, as well as creating and hosting events, for more than a decade. She is co-founder of Oakland’s beloved Soulovely, a QTBIPOC dance party now going into its ninth year. Aima has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for twenty years and continues to be inspired by the beauty and brilliance of the art, music, and activism that is fostered here. No stranger to collaboration, she believes in the power of using art and music as a bridge between communities. Aima has rocked crowds from Oakland to Barcelona as a vocalist and emcee with groups such as Jazz Mafia, J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science, and Femme Deadly Venoms, with whom she recently recorded Femmenomenon, to be released later this year. As a visual artist, she is drawn towards natural materials, sacred geometry, healing frequencies, and ancestral wisdom and medicines as inspiration for her work. Learn more at aimathedreamer.bandcamp.com.
Lady Fingaz, turntable
DJ/turntablist, producer, and vocalist Lady Fingaz began studying piano at an early age in her hometown of Austin, TX before discovering the art of DJing and turntablism as a teenager. After relocating to San Francisco from New Orleans, she joined forces with the all-female super group Femme Deadly Venoms, placing second in the 2010 US Team DMC competition. She is currently a member of trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s latest project and band, Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. To learn more, visit ladyfingaz.com.
Andrew Levin, electric guitar
A Bay Area native, Andrew Levin embarked on a full-time music career in the multicultural and countercultural center of Oakland following his graduation from college. His songs are firmly rooted in his personal story of building a life around music and overcoming trauma. Andrew has been a creative member of projects including the Kev Choice Ensemble, Emily Afton, and the Jazz Mafia, and he has performed and recorded with the likes of Jody Watley, Terrace Martin, Hans Zimmer, Lyrics Born, Zion, and i. Learn more at andrewlevinmusic.com.
Marcus Phillips, electric bass
Born and raised in San Francisco, CA, Marcus Phillips was introduced to music at a young age, playing drums and keyboards in his grandfather's church. Currently bassist for Jennifer Hudson, he has traveled the world playing for artists such as Leela James, Ledisi, Dave Hollister, Tina Campbell, Tony! Toni! Toné!, DJ Quik, Eric Roberson, Mike Phillips, Keyshia Cole, Joe, Eric Benet, Mali Music, Iyanla Vanzant, Kelly Clarkson, and Goapele. His band Top of the Marc features some of the Bay Area’s leading musicians.
Dame Drummer, drums
A native of Cleveland, OH drummer/singer/songwriter/producer Dame Drummer hails from a musical family. Following a professional basketball career, he returned to music and made his way to California. He has collaborated with artists such as Los Rakas, LeVICE, Jazz Mafia, Martin Luther, Marcus Machado, Uriah Duffy, Aisha Fukushima, Shapeshifter, DaM-FunK, Kev Choice, Conya Doss, Alvin Frazier, Myron, Mugpush, DJ Teeko, Predestined Muzic, Sylvia Benford, Sarah’s Girl, Fantastic Negrito, and Liv Warfield. He is currently wrapping up his full-length LP entitled Loveolution. Learn more at damedrummer.com.
Mix’d Ingrdnts is a multi-ethnic, multi-genre dance collective composed of female-identified artists, who work together with the intent to contribute to the impact of social change. Established in 2010, the company accomplishes its mission through urban performance, dance education, and connection, while cultivating a stronger community of artists of all ages and mediums through process workshopping and mentorship. Co-founder and Company Director Jenay “ShinobiJaxx” Anolin is an Oakland native who has been community organizing in the Bay Area since 2006. She is classically trained in ballet and graduated from UCLA where she was introduced to various street styles. Dancer Yeni Lucero was born in Chalchuapa, El Salvador. A graduate of San Francisco State University, she extended her training at the Alvin Ailey School. She has performed work by West African Dance Company-Diamanou Coura, Paco Gomes, Alayo Dance Company, Annie Rosenthal, Robert Moses’ Kin, Ron K. Brown, Delina Patrice, and Kendra Kimbrough Dance Ensemble. For more information, visit mixdingrdnts.com.
San Francisco Symphony Musicians
Heard in This Episode
Kev Choice (arr. Jack Perla): Movements
AÏMA the DRMR (arr. Jack Perla): Heady
CURRENTS Explore & Create
In collaboration with Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, this interactive musical adventure and companion series features conversations and activities designed to guide curious users through the characteristics that shape musical styles explored in CURRENTS. Featured in this episode: Maddy “MADlines” Clifford and Joowan Kim
EXPRESSION THROUGH QUESTION
Rhyming pushes creativity in unexpected directions. Pose a one-line question—but make it rhyme.
(Example: “Love is the answer, so why not let it move you like a dancer?”)
Share your rhyme on Instagram or Twitter, using #SFSCurrents (your account must be public) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be displaying the results here.
Maddy “MADlines” Clifford
Maddy “MADlines” Clifford is a writer, musician, and educator born and raised in Seattle, WA. Currently based in Oakland, she has spent the past ten years teaching literary arts workshops to youth on college campuses, within locked-down facilities, and even as far away as Uganda. She recently made a guest appearance on the Oakland web series The North Pole, and she was featured on the song, “Black Grxl Magic” by Grammy-nominated Hip Hop-for-kids group, Alphabet Rockers.
Learn more at madlinesinfo.com.
Composer and pianist JooWan Kim began his formal training in composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he graduated a Bachelor of Music in composition in 2003. He continued his education at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, receiving a Master of Music in composition in 2006. JooWan founded Hip Hop Orchestra Ensemble Mik Nawooj in 2010. For more information, visit ensemblemiknawooj.com.
CONTINUE YOUR JOURNEY
CURRENTS is an exchange of ideas, a synergy of perspectives. Tap into the artists, organizations, and ground-level forces shaping and transforming the Bay Area community and the world.
Hip Hop for Change: Black-led grassroots nonprofit that seeks to address the injustices of misrepresentation through Hip Hop pedagogy and community building
Mix’d Ingrdnts: A multi-ethnic collective of female artists working together as an all-styles dance company
“If Cities Could Dance: Oakland Turf Dancing,” from KQED. Directed by Yak Films and featuring Oakland dance stars Zeus, Yung Phil, and Icecold3000
TDK: The Dream Kontinues, documentary film by Pendarvis Harshaw about Oakland graffiti artist, “Dream”
“God Talk,” by Maddy “MADLines” Clifford centers Black women’s stories and experiences in Hip Hop
Ensemble Mik Nawooj: A Hip Hop fusion orchestra sampling principles of Hip Hop and classical music
Special Thanks to Our Season Sponsors
To Chevron, our inaugural Second Century Partner, for keeping the music playing since 1926.
To Emirates, our Official Airline, for keeping the music playing around the world.
To Bank of America, for more than 30 years of supporting young artists through SF Symphony education programs.