Ryan Chartrand

Hip-hop may seem like just spoken words with a beat, but it goes far beyond that, if you ask the Cal Poly chapter of Hip Hop Congress.

Not only does it strive to cultivate the original four elements of hip-hop – breakdancing, graffiti artistry, deejaying and, of course, emceeing – but it also seeks to break down misperceptions and unite people.

“San Luis Obispo’s kind of like a petri dish,” said graphic communications junior Rachel Cherny, president of the Cal Poly chapter. “It exists in its own little bubble.”

Such isolation, Cherny said, can lead to a narrow-minded understanding the HHC tries to undo.

“People don’t understand what hip-hop is; they think it’s all what’s on the radio, or about dealing drugs or prostitution or whatever,” she explained. “But it began as a way to start social change and break through boundaries in the community. People can tend to hate what they think is hip-hop, or they hate hip-hop because they don’t understand it.”

Eradicating the erroneous notion of hip-hop as merely music is key to the chapter’s goals, according to manufacturing engineering sophomore Jonathan Villeda, a Los Angeles native.

“We’re trying to get hip-hop culture here at Cal Poly since not too many people know about it besides the music,” he said, emphasizing all four elements working in unison.

Breakdancing happens to be especially well-represented at Cal Poly. Its Secret Service Crew boasts 15 to 20 performers who practice three times a week in order to prepare for various community events, Cherny said.

She added that many chapters come to be renowned for a given element, and those interested usually join those chapters accordingly.

“We’re primarily breakdancing with a few deejays, some who deal mostly with artwork and then some who just have a love for hip hop in general,” Cherny said. “We are somewhat lacking on emcees because there aren’t really many rappers who go to Cal Poly.”

Important to the chapter’s success in illuminating the lesser-known aspects of hip-hop, Villeda said, is its ongoing search for venues to host shows.

At regular meetings, he said, members discuss possible places in the area that would be well-suited for concerts or events and try to pinpoint artists coming through not just San Luis Obispo, but California at large, and then make a calendar detailing such opportunities.

“That way, if people are into a particular artist, it’s easier to check it out,” he said.

Aside from art’s sake, the communicative potential inherent to hip-hop, which the chapter stresses, is often underappreciated, opined executive director of housing and residential life Preston Allen, the advisor.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring everyone together under the umbrella of music,” Allen said. “And it’s exciting to watch because there’s such an increasing dialogue between diverse groups of people – yet they’re sharing the diversity of their experiences as well. It’s a movement of communication – just as powerful as the Internet.”

At present, the chapter is trying to arrange for Crown City Rockers, a group known for its eclecticism and liveliness, to return to Cal Poly in late April or early May. It also intends to assemble a collective assortment of Bay Area acts that could take the stage at a locale such as Downtown Brewing Co.

For fundraising, the chapter has started a first-of-its-kind T-shirt initiative pertaining to the HHC as a whole. The endeavor features a design initially devised to fit Cal Poly but is flexibly applicable to all chapters.

Headquartered in San Jose, Hip Hop Congress was a merge of two associations under the same name by Shamako Noble, Ron Gubitz, Jordan Bromley and Reali Robinson in 2000. According to its official Web site, HHC has developed more than 50 chapters in communities, high schools and colleges across the nation.

At Cal Poly, it originally began as the S.U.B. (Students United By Hip-Hop) Culture Club, founded by Brian McMullen, Brenton Smith and Matt Johnson.

In late 2007, co-president Jennifer Rosenberg (now studying abroad in Thailand) spearheaded the club becoming a chapter of the widely influential, international, non-profit organization.

“Its whole point is to use hip hop culture to inspire action and creativity,” said Cherny, who joined last year.

While meetings are formal and involve much “planning and brainstorming,” Cherny said, new members shouldn’t have difficulty blending in, and anyone can relate to some routines.

“One of the things we want everyone to do is to bring in new artists, or old artists you just started to really enjoy,” said Cherny, a Chicagoan. “A lot of us are from different places – from Alaska to all over California, there are tons of regional people. Our favorite part is to use our love of hip hop to help each other.”

The full congress meets once a week at 6 p.m. Wednesdays in Building 5, room 225.

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