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New Bedford’s Hip-Hop Past – and Future

YAP! in performance in Washington, D.C. last May, 2016

YAP! in performance in Washington, D.C. last May, 2016

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” may be playing to sold-out houses on Broadway in 2016 but Groundwork! member Ben Gilbarg has been mixing hip-hop, social awareness and history since 2010 here in New Bedford with YAP! – and, you don’t even need to spend over $200 a ticket to watch!

YAP! stands for “Youth Ambassador Program.” It’s a project between Ben’s Third EyE Unlimited Youth Empowerment, which he founded over 15 years ago, and the National Park Service. It’s specifically designed to communicate park themes and history – local, regional and national – through social media engagement and hip-hop music and videos. Though the roster of members has changed, YAP! as a group of performers has been laying down lyrics on beats since 2009 and is currently producing its ninth music video.

The efforts have yielded some slick results; under Ben’s direction, professionalism is the order of the day. Each video begins on storyboards before a shot list is decided upon. From beginning through editing, it takes about two months to produce a YAP! video. They are of exceptional quality – all the videos can be found on the group’s YouTube page here – and have therefore been noticed by folks in very high places. Like First Lady Michelle Obama. In 2010, the YAP! video, “Get Outside and Move” was nationally recognized by her letsmove.gov initiative.

As you would expect, that sort of attention often brings YAP! to the nation’s capital – as they recently were in late August for the Park Service’s Centennial Week. That’s because YAP! produced a video for the occasion, appropriately titled “Centennial!” That’s right – straight outta New Bedford, YAP! is creating history for the entire nation.

Ben is a prolific video producer who is also the founder of Visionary Communications Consultants, LLC. The company specializes in a wide range of communication needs with a focus on video production. With YAP!, he believes he and the Park Service are pioneering a model for youth engagement.

The songs are entirely written by group members, who are or have been current or former residents of New Bedford. The focus of the lyrics is telling America’s story in a new way – just like “Hamilton” is doing on Broadway. The hip-hop rhythm and pedigree allows a freedom of expression that more people can relate to – and it’s particularly effective at addressing bits of history that have for too long been ignored. Especially the history of people of color.

Of the latest project in production, commissioned by the National Mall in D.C., Ben says, “The video highlight how far we’ve come but also how far we have to go in the struggle for racial justice and equality.” That’s reflected in the titles of all the videos which often suggest a journey – sometimes literally or sometimes implied. On the YAP YouTube page, you’ll find such outstanding offerings like the “Northstar Journey” doucmentary series, which were my first first introduction to the group a few years back.

YAP! also goes live. They have a school assembly program that brings the group into schools. It’s a mixture of video and live performance they dub ‘edutaining’ and ‘hip history’. They’ve done it at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School and Carney Academy Elementary School. And, they may be taking their act on the road. In a bit of exciting news for YAP! and New Bedford, the National Park Service may be taking the group to Shiloh, TN for a special Civil War battlefield workshop program in the near future.

YAP! is clearly going places by helping to re-invent how we experience and learn about the past. Along the way, they are saying good things about the New Bedford’s future – with a fresh sound and attitude. Listen up.

Steven Froias

Steven Froias

Mad Man at Groundwork!
Steven Froias is Groundwork!'s resident blogger. He sleeps in the boiler room at 1213 Purchase Street.
Steven Froias