When you think of Carnegie Hall, hip hop may not come to mind, but a program catering to aspiring young musicians and former inmates is changing that.
"From being incarcerated, when they do touch the town, hit the streets, they're allowed to come here and continue the program," said Ryan Burvick.
The Astoria resident co-founded music production company Audio Pictures. More than a year ago, he teamed up with Columbia University to create a digital music class called ‘Beats Rhymes and Justice,’ held at Rikers Island.
They launched the program after Rikers decided to ban solitary confinement for inmates 21 and under.
"It actually plants a seed that grows, that allows them to divert the energy that they can use to get into some nonsense and some reckless stuff, into something that's more productive," said Burvick.
"Education in school these days, lots of young people are disengaged because it doesn't really speak to them, but hip-hop gets them where they live," said Cameron Rasmussen, program director at the Center for Justice at Columbia University.
The company provides equipment and runs recording sessions at both Rikers and Carnegie. At Carnegie Hall, instructors encourage former inmates to work closely with seasoned music students to learn the value of harmony, in and out of the studio.
“He's teaching those guys how to have a voice," said one young guitarist.
Teachers are betting big on rap's power to reform youth and keep them from returning to prison. During class, students also analyze the meaning behind lyrics.
"We might take a song like Tupac's 'Better Days," said Darnell Hannon, a Beats instructor and co-founder at Audio Pictures. "We just use it as an example as someone who was in a situation of incarceration and how they looked to turn their life around.”
Audio Pictures designs their Beats Rhymes and Justice Program courses at their studios in Astoria where they also create music for DJs, producers and train other emcees.
But they say working with kids who are looking forward to 'Better Days' is equally rewarding.
"I’m humbled, humbled to know that I'm just another instrument in life's song," said Burvick.
Next month, the project's expanding into a 5-day intensive 'hip-hop workshop' at Rikers.