Leading rap sessions as part of Young Writers’ City

Kema Kay is a 23-year-old rapper and actor who recently played China in the award-winning Ken Loach film I, Daniel, Blake. Here he discusses his experience of leading sessions at Excelsior Academy in Newcastle, his former secondary school, as part of Young Writers’ City.

I started by introducing myself to the pupils; what I have achieved so far in my music career, and how I ended up appearing in films. It was a strange experience group-leading at the same school that I went to; however being in the same class, overseen by the same teacher, made the students much easier for me to relate to…

I demonstrated a rap song to the class to give them an idea of what they would be doing in the following sessions, and to help them feel more confident in themselves.

The young people were given instrumental tracks to choose from. Although I was there to guide them, I wanted every major decision to be made by the pupils themselves so that they would know that they had ownership of the project.

The theme for their pieces was “We have far more in common than that which divides us” – words famously spoken by the Labour MP Jo Cox. We set up a spider diagram where the pupils put their ideas on the board relating to the subject.

Before the pupils started writing lyrics, we came together to discuss the ideas of rhythm and beat sounds. Standing in a circle, the whole class clapped their hands to the rhythm and, one after another, called out their names, ages and told the others a fact about themselves. The exercise provided valuable experience of speaking in front of a crowd.

We followed this with an open discussion about the ideas on the spider diagram and which of these we would use in the rap lyrics.

The pupils were split into groups and given the task of writing two lines each. Once they had written some ideas down, volunteers took turns to read some of their lines out loud over a beat. Their next challenge was to make the ideas they had rhyme in the context of a rap song.

One example was:
“We all have different battles and dreams. / But that doesn’t that mean we can’t work as a team.”

Over the weeks that followed, the pupils worked hard to fine-tune their lyrics. They gradually came out of their comfort zones and became increasingly more comfortable performing.

The project producer Emily Wiseman and I identified many talented writers within the group, and some very powerful lyrics were produced.

“To get true love you have to show some respect /
Always think of others don’t show them neglect /
We breathe the same air; we all have a heart /
Why should our differences tear us apart?”

We found that some young people worked better in big groups, while others produced their best work when in pairs.

It was very gratifying to see the pupils’ work come to fruition; and hopefully being able to identify with me helped them along the way!

Twitter: @kemakay

Facebook: Young Writers’ City at Excelsior / Kema Kay

Young Writers’ City is a project from New Writing North and Cuckoo Young Writers based in Newcastle upon Tyne. We want to get more young people from the city involved in creative projects and offer them the chance to experience all types of writing in their own communities. Young Writers’ City supports young people to make their own work and share their work with audiences and readers.