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Affinities: Greenleaf Elementary Drops the Beats

Lauren Murrow | June 18, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

See all the Affinities here.

Editor's Note: This is one of many dispatches from Oakland that San Francisco magazine is publishing over the next month, all part of our June "Oakland Issue." To see the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.

Most days, Fatima Ramos is a typical 10-year-old. But every Thursday afternoon, she adopts a headphone-rocking alter ego: DJ Spotlight. “I like making beats the best, but I sing, too,” she says.

Greenleaf Elementary is one of eight Oakland schools participating in Today’s Future Sound, a music production program for kids. Founded by Elliot Gann, a bespectacled, khaki-wearing doctor of psychology who also happens to be a regular on the local battle rap scene, the after-school class teaches DJ skills to underserved students. “We try to create rapport in a way that’s not anxiety-producing like traditional talk therapy,” Gann says. “I’ll make a beat and kick a freestyle. Then the kids are like, ‘Ooh, I can relate to this guy.’”

Instructors bring suitcases full of laptop-compatible equipment, and activities range from creating beats out of found sounds—squeaking chairs, banging doors, clacking computer keys—to learning basic music theory on mini-keyboards. Each student is encouraged to come up with original album art (Hoover Elementary’s latest release depicts a hawk flying over Hoover Dam with a beat machine in its talons) and a hip-hop alias, resulting in supergroups like the Golden Mics, the Cheetah Girls, and the Dynamite Kids. As extracurriculars go, it’s pretty fun. “Kids are kids,” says Gann. “Sometimes it’s about beat-making as conflict resolution; sometimes it’s just about getting to push a button and make a big sound.”

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco.

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