Re-envisioning RWB as a club (2017)


Here are a few thoughts that I have after leading as the president of RWB for a year. As my first time being in an exec position, I’ve certainly learned a lot and discovered many of my shortcomings. Here are some thoughts that I would like to pass onto myself and any future exec members:

Perhaps most importantly, I realized the importance of having a clear vision for the club. What is the purpose/motivation behind existing? Is there another organization or group that does the same thing? How are we different from what’s already available? Asking these questions are important because, unless we identify and understand this, we likely won’t have the motivation to continue when the times get rough. And it’s also important to realize that we can’t do everything. We need to do what’s possible with the resources that we have right now (funding/budget, availability, helpers, space, etc). Look at it as leaving room to grow.

And if we’re building a community, it may be necessary to consider the legacy of the club. How will the club continue to exist/run after the current execs are gone? We have to be intentional with inspiring or drawing the attention of future leaders.

And this is one of our current problems. I know that we want to build a community, but I realized recently that we’ve been doing it wrong: we’ve been trying to form a community around hip hop when we should’ve been trying to form a community through hip hop. What I mean by this is that we are not just a group of people who like hip hop. Hip hop has helped us in different ways, and we want to celebrate that.

Hip hop, then, is the coming together of diversity. We as students come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We meet, express ourselves through the art of hip hop, and we learn from each other. That’s hip hop — a way for people from different backgrounds to easily come together.

Another thing I’ve realized was that we weren’t including people effectively. We certainly welcomed people and wished for their participation in our events, freestyling and performing may not be the easiest thing to introduce yourself into. Our focus on showing that we’re out there certainly generated interest, but this didn’t bring us very many returning members. If our freestyles were bad, people didn’t want anything to do with us. And if our performances were amazing, people shied away. We become a performance and therefore something for people to consume, not something to be a part of.

My friend Kevin told me this: every person and their stories are beautiful and incredible. There is something to be learned from each of them. So the question is, how are we including students who can’t/don’t want to freestyle or care about hip hop? Previously, our focus has been for us to be a platform for artists to connect and craft their skills. While there is certainly a need for such organization, in my opinion, this isn’t nearly as important as connecting people through hip hop. And the fact is, we simply don’t have enough resources to achieve this properly right now. I want to avoid being stretched too thin and instead build slowly but consistency.

Moving forward, we have to understand that we’re going to have to hand the torch off to someone else one day. And it is necessary to take our hands off completely because, otherwise, our presence and authority will be a hindrance to the club’s future growth. Instilling ownership is crucial to their success. I have to trust in other people’s vision and that a good seed has been planted.

As parting words, I want RWB to be a community that embraces hip hop to build ourselves. I want a club that I’m passionate about and is rewarding in itself to run. I want to have events that are inclusive and entertaining, by being something that will be fun even if it’s just the few of us. If we start off with like this, we can’t do no wrong. As for the bigger picture, I want a community and a culture of being inclusive by loving people for who they are. I want the community to be built on this ownership of changing our culture.


Image is from The Get Down


Rappers Without Borders


Plug: Rappers Without Borders is a community at UBC that loves hip hop and creates space where hip hop is celebrated. To root ourselves in cause, we raise donations for MSF (Doctors without Borders). As a club, we often just hang out, talk, and let freestyles happen (Freestyle Fridays). We also have cypher recording sessions and a monthly hip hop night at The Pit.

What’s interesting about me being the president of RWB is that I used to dislike hip hop back in high school. It’s more of the fact that I wasn’t exposed to it, but I generally accepted English teacher’s making fun of rap music as c-rap music. But in the second year of my university, my friend from my jazz combo invited me out to Freestyle Friday.

And it was there that I fell in love with hip hop.

There is something incredible about witnessing a freestyle. You may have seen some impressive feats from YouTube, but when you see it happen right in front of your eyes, as the rhymes reference the environment around you, and it react to your reactions, it becomes this powerful energy. Even just by being an audience, this energy is reverberated and connects everyone in the earshot.

It is sometimes easier to drive self-expressions to a rhythm. When the music is playing, you simply let go and share. And when we listen to each other’s words, there is real intimacy through this understanding.

The hip hop community is one of the first places where I felt a lack of diversion. It’s hard to describe but something was different. Differences weren’t concealed or highlighted, but simply understood.

Hip hop, as I understand it, is a culture that embraces diversity. Historically, it came out of a place of systematic oppression and racial prejudice against the black people. Hip hop was a counter-cultural, non-violent alternative to the youth who felt angry and hopeless. So since its beginnings, it has been a platform for the minority and the oppressed to voice themselves. It is the spirit of building something for yourself or for your community. This is why I embrace the hip hop community.


Image is from Rappers Without Borders