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TULSA, Okla. – Oklahoma hip-hop artists are coming together to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre with a multimedia hip-hop project, “Fire in Little Africa.”
The project brings together over 50 of the most talented rappers, singers, producers, poets, musicians and visual artists in Oklahoma with the idea of bringing the community together in the spirit of Black Wall Street to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 massacre.
“There is some amazing hip-hop talent all over Oklahoma, and I knew it was part of my responsibility to provide access for these artists to elevate their voices as we process the generational trauma that has been present in this community for the past century,” said Stevie “Dr. View” Johnson, Ph.D., manager of education and diversity outreach for the American Song Archives, which encompasses the Woody Guthrie Center and Bob Dylan Center. “The work of black artists, and hip-hop artists specifically, is critical in leading our community to addressing and processing the wounds of the past.”
Johnson tapped local hip-hop artists and community leaders Steph Simon, Dialtone and St. Domonick, as well as entrepreneurs Trey Thaxton and Chris Davis and filmmaker Ben Lindsey, to form the executive team to bring the historic project to reality.
The album, scheduled for release in February 2021, was recorded in a groundbreaking studio session early last month. Johnson and his team converted the Greenwood Cultural Center and Skyline Mansion (formerly Brady Mansion) into multi-room recording studios for five days. More than 50 of the top hip-hop artists from Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Lawton were invited to participate in the creative process.
Simon, already known for using hip-hop to address the Tulsa Race Massacre with his 2019 album “Born on Black Wall Street,” said recording “Fire in Little Africa” in the former home of Tate Brady added to the significance of the project. Brady was a prominent early Tulsan who was also known to be active in the Ku Klux Klan.
“Knowing what Tate Brady stood for, despite the history of people praising him as a founding father of Tulsa, just gives it more weight,” Simon said. “Creating the greatest rap or hip-hop album of all time in his basement and his kitchen was a moment that can never be duplicated.”
The recording sessions took over the entire Greenwood Cultural Center for the weekend — even the office of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission became a recording studio. Centennial Commission Executive Director Phil Armstrong said he is thrilled to support such an important project.
“This is exactly the kind of work the Centennial Commission was created to do, particularly in connecting the history of Greenwood to younger generations in a way that will resonate with them,” Armstrong said. “We know that hip-hop has the power to transform and empower communities, and I am so excited for what this project is going to do here in Tulsa.”
The recording sessions were fully documented with a film crew for the ”Fire in Little Africa” documentary about the origin and ethos of the Tulsa hip-hop scene, to be released in 2021.
The ”Fire in Little Africa” podcast launches on all major platforms April 7 with new episodes every week. The podcast features hosts Ali Shaw and Doc Free in conversation with Tulsa artists, community leaders and national cultural voices about hip-hop, art and culture. The podcast also provides news and updates on the album leading up to the 2021 release.
Finally, Johnson is collaborating with Tulsa educators to develop a curriculum based on the content of the project, with the hopes that this history will be taught in schools, corporate offices, museums and other educational environments.
“Hip-hop creators are reincarnated griots that provide the knowledge to understand one’s self, while simultaneously wrestling with the sealed history of America,” Johnson said. “The ability to connect art and music with education and literacy is what makes this curriculum piece so critical to the liberation of humanity.”
Woody Guthrie Center Director Deana McCloud said, “Fire in Little Africa” is an opportunity to draw connections between modern-day hip-hop artists and folk singers like Guthrie and Dylan.
“Folk is the music of the people and heritage, and Woody knew that the words were the most important part of his work,” McCloud said. “Tulsa’s hip-hop artists follow that tradition as a new generation speaking truth to power, and we’re confident Woody would have been sharing a mic and spitting fire with all of these gifted artists.”
Tulsa’s hip-hop community got national attention in February when Rolling Stone magazine cited the city’s rappers and R&B singers as key factors in making Tulsa one of the best music scenes in the country.
Updates on the project will be published on FireInLittleAfrica.com and via the “Fire in Little Africa” podcast leading up to the February 2021 release date.
About The Bob Dylan Center?
To be anchored by a permanent exhibit on the life and work of Bob Dylan, The Bob Dylan Center is committed to exploring the myriad forms of creativity that enrich the world around us. When it opens in the Tulsa Arts District in 2021, the center will serve to educate, motivate and inspire visitors to engage their own capacity as creators. Through exhibits, public programs, performances, lectures, and publications, the center aims to foster a conversation about the role of creativity in our lives.
As the primary public venue for The Bob Dylan Archive® collection, the center will curate and exhibit a priceless collection of more than 100,000 items spanning Dylan’s career, including handwritten manuscripts, notebooks, and correspondence; films, videos, photographs, and artwork; memorabilia and ephemera; personal documents and effects; unreleased studio and concert recordings; musical instruments, and many other elements. For more information, please visit www.bobdylancenter.com.
About The Woody Guthrie Center?
The Woody Guthrie Center, opened in 2013, features state of the art exhibits, an extensive outreach and education program, and a concert series to bring his legacy to Tulsans and those who make the pilgrimage to what is a destination for Woody Guthrie fans worldwide.
The Center is more than a museum; instead, it is a center of investigation for inspiration. By providing examples of Guthrie’s ability to use his creativity as a way of expressing the world around him, we hope to encourage others to find their voices and, through their educational programs, explore the power that lies within the creative process. For more information, please visit www.woodyguthriecenter.org.
About The Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission (“Commission”), an Oklahoma State Commission, formed in 2015 by State Senator Kevin Matthews, seeks to educate all United States citizens about Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District, the storied “Black Wall Street,” including the massacre and its impact on Oklahoma and the nation. Utilizing an experiential, sustainable approach, the Commission will build social ties and unite communities. The Commission’s work falls into six categories which are the basis for committees: (1) Arts and Culture; (2) Education; (3) Bricks & Mortar; (4) Economic Development; (5) Commemoration; and (6) Tourism. These interconnected building blocks undergird its ambitious agenda.
About Stevie “Dr. View” Johnson, Ph.D
Stevie “Dr. View” Johnson, Ph.D. is manager of education and diversity outreach for American Song Archives, which encompasses the Woody Guthrie Center and Bob Dylan Center. Johnson is also a DJ, producer, educator and community organizer. Johnson came into this role with the idea of bringing the Oklahoma hip-hop community together in the spirit of Black Wall Street to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 Massacre. Johnson completed his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration at the University of Oklahoma in 2019 and completed his dissertation in the format of a hip-hop album. Johnson received the 2019 Bobby Wright Dissertation of the Year Award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education for that work.