By Mark Nicklawske
“Pushed into a corner, I was almost in tears when my mother told me the news father went to jail.Fell down a wrong path, now I’m looking back on how I used to act and I’m like, wow, I’m already up now, ain’t no one gonna bring me back down.”
“Promise to Mother” by The Mixtape Project 2.0
A Nigerian-born, Duluth-based musician and hip-hop artist has created a new program that encourages Hills young people to express themselves in positive ways by recording powerful rhymes and fresh new beats.
Volunteer Daniel Oyinloye has coached a number of talented Hills young people through the music making process in a recording program he calls The Mixtape Project. Oyinloye and more than three dozen young men have created and posted three Mixtape Project recordings since 2017.
Mixtape Project artists have presented their music on the University of Minnesota Duluth radio station KUMD and have created a Soundcloud page that hosts their work. The project earned two grants from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and now has full school funding.
Oyinloye said the Mixtape Project gives young men the opportunity to share their personal stories and express themselves through the power of music. He developed the project using ideas that work in his own record making process.
For example, Hills young people were asked to write a letter to their future selves and record their words to music using pre-programmed beats.
“That was phenomenal. It was great,” he said. “We had passion. We had the conversations about their life, their struggles, their situations, their circumstances.”
The music is compelling and powerful and young people learn something along the way, said Oyinloye. The aspiring artists learned how to work collaboratively, ask questions, improve their patience and develop artistic ideas.
“That to me was profound,” he said “This is what I really wanted to do.”
Each Mixtape Project session works with about 12 interested musicians from a Hills group like the Pioneers or Trailblazers for six weeks. The group learns how to write their stories, shape those stories into songs and record the work to music. Oyinloye adjusts each session to the age and abilities of the participants.
“I want them to know that you can write your way out,” he said. “I give them the skill sets of what it takes to record themselves, to write themselves and let them understand that you can decide what path you want to take with that skill. You can use these skills for any amount of things.”
Oyinloye said he hopes Mixtape Project teaches young people how to be productive, creative and pass time in healthy, positive ways. He said learning good avenues to self expression helps young people better understand their situation.
“I hope they invest their time and resources when they are anxious, or when they feel like they need time to recollect or reflect that they use (writing) as a tool to do so,” he said. “They don’t have to become musicians…but they have that outlet and they know that they can always use their writing, music and poetry or a diary to express themselves much more.”
Music, writing and creativity has always worked for Oyinloye. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Oyinloye sang with friends in acapella youth groups before moving to Minneapolis at 15 and discovering Tupac Shakur, the Black Eyed Peas and Common.
“They just inspired me,” he said. “I was like: ‘How is one person writing all these things, all these words?’…I just fell in love.”
Oyinloye attended college at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he regularly volunteered at The Hills and after graduating in 2009 served as the school’s African American program coordinator. At UMD, he formed a band called 218 and the group independently produced its own recordings. His solo productions now focus on mixing roots-oriented Afro beat and new hip-hop,
“I didn’t have a music project to teach me anything. I learned because I was hungry for music,” he said. “I ended up in a studio dropping a rap verse and I thought, “OK, I can do this.’”
Oyinloye hopes to keep in contact with Mixtape Project artists and, maybe two or three years down the line, find successful past performers that are still writing, creating and recording. Perhaps artists could return to The Hills for a performance.
“They could inspire the younger kids,” he said. “The power is in their hands. They could now tell their story. That’s the power.”