Hip-hop artist $ubzerø performs on Chamberlain Field during “Bringing Chattanooga to UTC.” (Photos by Gina Stafford)

Micah Chapman couldn’t believe it when Stuart Benkert, head of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Performing Arts, asked him about bringing hip-hop artists to perform on campus.

“I was actually thinking that he was joking,” recalled Chapman, co-founder and director of Hip-Hop CHA, Chattanooga’s first collective working to help local hip-hop artists. “I thought it was a hypothetical question until I answered the question and he said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ It was open doors and open arms and it has given us a lot of momentum.”

What started as a meeting over southern cuisine turned into reality Oct. 14 when “Bringing Chattanooga to UTC,” a live concert for University students, took place under the Chamberlain Field lights. The concert was a collaboration involving the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Division of Diversity and Engagement and the Department of Performing Arts.

The Chamberlain Field event was part of Chattanooga’s first official Hip-Hop Week. Ten local and regional hip-hop artists were slated to showcase their talents, including a pair of UTC student artists, $ubzerø and Vun Rashid.

First up Thursday night was Vun Rashid, a UTC senior in exercise science whose given name is Javon Roberts, a native of Memphis. The performance was not only the first of the evening, it was Roberts’ first ever—delivered with confidence.

“My comfort outweighed my nerves,” he said. “I’ve always had maybe a small fear of public speaking, but I was salutatorian of my high school graduating class and that was my first big speech—at my graduation—and I was a little more nervous about this. Because it was like, intimate, to be sharing what I was. I had thoughts going through my head like, ‘What if people don’t like it?’ but then I decided I’m just going to be me, like I’m me every day.”

He was followed by $ubzerø, also known as Ethan Brown, a freshman from Chattanooga majoring in post-secondary education and English.

“It’s a great event and a great opportunity for artists, as well, especially young kids, like me,” Brown said. “It’s like a dream come true to be able to perform for people. This was my first time ever performing.”

In addition to following Roberts onto the stage at Chamberlain Pavilion, Brown, whose performance was “totally freestyle,” had been encouraged to participate by Roberts.

Other performers included Swayyvo, Kay B Brown, Marley Fox, Rich Way CT, Chuck Marley, Calee, PG Castro and Budders.

DD Hailey, a junior from Murfreesboro majoring in psychology and minoring in communication and promotion, said she’d like to have a career involved in events like Thursday’s show.

“I want to go into media and marketing because I enjoy being creative,” Hailey said. “I like making videos and photography, but I want to have a focus on mental health awareness.”

She said she sees a connection between psychology and communication and marketing  in considering the possibility of how to make events such as Thursday’s benefit participants’ mental health.

The Hip-Hop Week schedule consists of different activities in various locations throughout Chattanooga, culminating in an all-day conference Friday, Oct. 16, at Miller Park. Following that one-day series of sessions bringing together artists, music industry experts and marketing specialists for educational panels and workshops, a free, live concert is planned at 7 p.m.

Benkert said he was aware of plans to expand the hip-hop summit around town when he recently sat down with Chapman, thinking UTC students would be interested in having an on-campus event and participating in the conference.

“I felt students would be excited about this,” Benkert said, “and I know from an entrepreneurial standpoint that my students need to hear what this conference is about. They can speak to labels and label makers and performers and agents and learn the business part behind the label, like how to market yourself.

“These are things that universities can teach, but the students are really better off hearing this stuff from the people in the business.”

As Thursday night’s show got under way, Benkert said he was pleased that a little more than 200 people had already turned out for the event he targeted to have a maximum audience of 400.

Chapman is no stranger to campus, having attended UTC in 2009. His mother, Norma, received a bachelor’s degree in human services from the University in 1974 and was a charter member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

“We knew we needed to do something for the local artists. We just didn’t know how to put all the puzzle pieces together to see the full picture,” Chapman said. “When he asked me that question over lunch, ‘What would you think about doing something on campus?’ it was an unbelievable question. That one conversation is now a manifestation.

“For the hip-hop music scene in Chattanooga to get more respected and taken more seriously, we needed to bridge that gap by bringing hip-hop artists to UTC and performing for these students.”

Benkert, who used to teach a history of hip-hop course, said there is a lot of social commentary and business modeling to be found in hip-hop. He said the concert and conference allows students to find education in a different way.

“This event lets students know that the University is interested in what they care about,” he said. “When we talk about performing arts, we don’t just mean Western European performing arts; we mean all of the performing arts.

“This sends a good message to the students and our faculty and the community that UTC is about all of the performing arts and that we recognize all the ways that people participate and make art.”

Media Relations Contacts: Email UTC Media Relations or call 423-425-5119.

Chuck Wasserstrom is an executive staff writer in the UTC Office of Communications and Marketing.

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