They're plotting to re-organize Orlando, but they're not advocating methodical crime. Actually, the few but mighty members of the Writes of Passage collective are after quite the contrary. They're seriously ready for change-- in themselves, in their music, in their city-- and are ready to do so within this peaceful group of social rebellion.
What started in April, under the auspices of local messenger Swamburger in his new downtown storefront, has made a believer of more than a few disillusioned seekers-- including me. That first informal get-together set the guidelines for this developing collective, which hopes to unite individuals under the love of hip-hop-- the true musical form, not radio interpretations-- while tapping into a potential for change that has no boundaries.
Why hip-hop as the magnetizing central force? It's the shared belief that everyone holds within themselves a message that hasn't been heard. The same holds true for hip-hop; it's a voice that too often goes unnoticed and unsupported in the local music scene. So the conscious brand of music marries the group together just as it inspires its mission.
Meetings for this group of hip-hop revolutionaries have continued to take place every Sunday in Swamburger's comfortably crowded and recently reconfigured Culture Mart/Strong Arm 47. A typical gathering begins with each member bringing issues to the table, be it a CD-release party one needs help promoting or the monthly rent that someone is having trouble paying.
The group responds, usually offering advice or support for continued assistance. (My mentioned desire to quit smoking cigarettes-- an issue that has little to do with the hip-hop scene-- earned me a few calls and/or e-mails per week in support of my decision.) There are no lines that can't be crossed, because this is family, and relationships between one another are the heartbeat of hip-hop consciousness.
Once everyone has spoken, conversations about more empowering thought processes take over. One challenge may be how to turn a group of individuals into an army of hit men to promote, say, that CD release or club gig. Some members bring technical experience, while others bring spiritual enlightenment, but every member is valued and is expected to give freely for the greater good of the whole.
Take devoted member DiVinci, a budding producer for most every genre of music, from country to rap. He finds hip-hop to be synonymous with love, and love synonymous with God. He calls himself a soliloquist of sound because he finds that the music gives him a tangible manifestation of where he's at in life. He's been a catalyst in Writes of Passage since the beginning because he wants to be part of a movement that helps the community save itself from not only misconceptions about hip-hop but from any negativity.
Strictly an esoteric enthusiast and not an aspiring musician, Victor Felix, a local Egyptian shaman of sorts, hopes to open a spiritual shop next year with his wife. He comes to the group because he thinks that it's up to "us" to make our city a "real community," one in which "we have doctors that are hip-hoppers, where we have lawyers that are hip-hoppers, where we have scientists that are hip-hoppers." In other words, he wants to share with other peace-makers in every area of society.
Citing artists that work in the same vein as Jay-Z, DiVinci wants to help people break away music that's spoon-feeding poisonous messages to the subconscious. He feels it is his moral duty to "show people that `they` can break this chain and what it represents."
Swamburger likes to turn it all around with a positive spin. He doesn't think anyone should verbally assault rappers who make the news regularly for gang affiliations, and drug and weapons charges. He suggests thinking in terms of "What `they` bought into and how much will it take to buy `them` out?"-- simple laws of karma.
Sitting with these higher thinkers, it's easier to believe that domination of anything is possible with collaboration. Just look at what's already been accomplished in a few short months on the fronts of networking and outreach.
In August, seven members of the resilient Writes of Passage crew will head to Chicago, one of the cities where the group is working with other similar hip-hop families. Future collaborative trips are being planned with groups in Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles. The Windy City hosts have set up a couple of show dates to spotlight the Southern flavor, and the travelers intend to organize do-it-yourself methods of Northern distribution of their music. These are the first steps in an effort to awaken hip-hoppers elsewhere to the Orlando message.
As for public outreach, there are, of course, the 3 p.m. Sunday meetings that are open to all interested in the movement. And in an attempt to be seen and heard every night a week at various venues around town, Writes of Passage has organized a couple of collaborative performance nights: Sundays at Bodhisattva Social Club (23 S. Court Ave.; 407-872-3136) and Mondays in the back room of The Social (54 N. Orange Ave.; 407-246-1599). Swamburger also takes part in Phat-n-Jazzy, Tuesdays at The Social.
Further plans for action call for filling in the other nights of the week, as well as a regular showcases of hip-hop artists on radio stations.
While 14 people doesn't sound like many, it is more than enough to start a revolution. One handful of people unified under a solid mission is all it takes. They're not in it for the money. They're not in it for the sex. They don't care about MTV fame unless it helps them to spread their message across the land in a faster fashion than they could do without it. But they do care about each other, and that's how it grows.