It starts with a beat from a boombox set on a brightly tiled stage at Clark Park in Southwest Detroit. The slow persistent rhythm serves as a signal that something is about to happen.
A crowd begins to gather on a grassy hill around the community stage. Some come to throw down rhymes, others just to witness and share the vibes.
The event is organized by a local hip-hop and arts collective called The RAIZ UP. They’ve been holding Sunday gatherings at Clark Park for most of the summer to celebrate local talent and encourage social awareness and action on issues facing the community.
A few weeks earlier, their gathering also included a discussion about how the state-imposed emergency manager would impact Detroiters. This particular Sunday, Sept. 8, two members of the Arizona-based hip-hop group Shining Soul — who connected with The RAIZ UP through the rapper Invincible — have stopped by to share the stage and to hold a beat-making workshop for members of the community.
The afternoon lineup is incredibly varied, featuring words from MoMo the poet, lyrics from MCs like Perfect Eclipse and Row, songs from Sandy Love and Xiomara Torres, and a traditional drum performance by Christy Bieber and Michelle Saboo of the Ann Arbor Swamp Singers, who also sang in the Ojibwe language. Afterwards, the MCs participate in a cypher, freestyling to some impromptu beats created with some Maschine and Roland SP-606 music sequencers.
“We got all kinds of talent,” RAIZ UP member Sacramento Knoxx told Critical Moment. “I really think it all bounces off each other. As far as music goes, it’s just beautiful. You got the drum. I work on beats. MCs. We got poets, beatmakers. We got a guitarist. It’s all kinds of freshness.”
The RAIZ UP gatherings have been happening for about a year now. In that time, the collective has grown to about twenty people — most of them based in Southwest Detroit — with a core group of about six or seven making sure things run smoothly.
The collective — whose name comes from a Spanish word meaning roots — had its origins in a dream Knoxx had.
“It was literally a dream. I kind of had a dream to come to this stage,” he said. “So I was like, alright, I’ll call up the homies around here. That’s when I ran into Antonio from the Allied Media Conference. I was hitting him up about ideas about coming out to the park.”
Antonio Cosme, a visual artist with the collective, said they started out with with public performances and skillshares, but later became involved with grassroots activism. This has included opposing emergency management, fighting pet coke piles on the Detroit River and pushing for the city’s Delray neighborhood to benefit from the construction of the proposed international bridge to Canada.
“We realized we had a good opportunity to connect peoples minds on different issues that were going on in the community and then from there we really started supporting as many different community organizations as we possibly could,” he said, “as well as putting in different work with organizations to use hip-hop and arts to highlight the things that affecting our community.”
The RAIZ UP have also done their best to be an intergenerational movement. Knoxx is an artist in residence at the Urban Arts Academy, a youth center at Trumbull and Abbott, and the group played a support role during the student walkouts at Western International High School last year.
K’won Weaver, a young Detroiter involved with the group, said being a member has increased his confidence about rapping and opened his mind about issues affecting the city.
“A year ago, when I started coming here, I just heard about it through Knoxx, and so I came to see what was up,” he said. “I think, what we’re doing here, that can help Detroit’s future, because youth can be inspired to do more and learn more about critical things about the politics and what’s going on in Detroit.”
Native American activism holds a prominent place in the group’s work as well. Most RAIZ UP members identify with indigenous culture and the group actively promotes decolonization, the reclaiming of native language and culture.
Members have dropped Native American banners from buildings, helped organize and document an Idle No More dance at Fairlane Mall, and put together an Ojibwe art installation to decolonize space at a traditional native site in Flint. They’re also interested in raising awareness about an Native American burial mound at Historic Fort Wayne in Southwest Detroit.
Then, of course, there’s the music as well. Christy Bieber is a recent addition to The Raiz Up, who also performs with Ann Arbor’s Swamp Singers. She appreciates how the group mixes native and hip hop culture.
“I’m honored and blessed by this collective. Just being with the people and incorporating hip hop with this indigenous music that I’m singing. It’s all healing and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Knoxx said his work with the collective has had a similar effect on him as well.
“[I’m] living in balance and healthy now,” he said. “Because of systematic oppression and historical trauma, I personally had a lot of self -hatred going on with me. So I was finishing off the last of that. The RAIZ UP formed from that. It reaped creativity from that oppression.”
The Raiz Up can be reached online at facebook.com/TheRaizUp or via email at email@example.com.