The Following Article Was Published in the Triangle Tribune:

Hip-hop educator speaks to youth through rhymes

By Latisha Catchatoorian

RALEIGH - "I'm going to make it despite what you say or do."

This line from Larry "LAK" Henderson's song "Black Men Rock" is just one of many he uses to inspire this generation's youth.

With songs about Harriet Tubman - "I'm freeing so many slaves you can call me Moses" - and the black experience - "A lot of my dudes going ham, but not eating," Henderson uses his beats and his delivery to get educational messages across.

Deemed the "hip-hop educator," Henderson founded Smart Music Entertainment and uses his talents to create a new sound of hip-hop music that is used as a tool for learning.

"I grew up as a battle rapper. I bring that skill set to the table, so when I'm doing that educational hip-hop music, I'm still bringing that battle rapper, cypher, street-type of sound," Henderson said. "It's not a gimmick, because I'm not trying to force educational content with hip-hop beats and just magically mash them together and push it down their (kids) throats. I'm making a song I like first and foremost as an artist that they appreciate the hip-hop of."

Henderson said he knows kids will appreciate the music aspect first and the message secondary. In a world full of Jay-Z's and more popular artists, getting people to listen to "educational hip-hop" takes a lot of work.

"They don't grasp the education part first. They're like, 'I like the beat. I like the flow, oh, and he's saying this.' That's how it resonates with them," he said.

Middle and high school students came to listen to Henderson's performance at Richard B. Harrison Community Library for a summit titled "Empowering Young Minds: Hip-Hop Meets Education."

Student Elijah Shabazz, whose favorite artist is Nas, enjoyed Henderson's presentation.

"I think it's important for that message to be spread out more through our communities. A lot of people, they're influenced by the wrong people, so I think he's (Henderson) a good person to be influenced by," he said.

Henderson, who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with Malcolm X's portrait, said he finds inspiration through people's stories, his grandparents or anything and everything in life that is impactful to him. With degrees in African studies, communications and studio engineering, the New Jersey native travels across the country to convey his educational messages.

"When people are saying why is education important, that's a terrible question. I met a young lady and she was 12 years old, and she could barely read. It's like, what are we doing outside of pointing the finger and saying this generation is crazy," he said.

Henderson's album, Lesson One: Hip-Hop & Education, has hit the Amazon bestseller list (No. 1 in Hot New Releases and No. 8 in Educational Music), and has received airplay on major radio stations around the world.

Monica Lucas, Shabazz's mother, commended Henderson on "what he brings to hip-hop." Lucas monitors her son's music intake for curse words and derogatory comments about women.

"'Black men rock', that is very powerful - that word (phrase) alone. I tell him (Elijah) that everyday," she said.

Lucas said she hopes what Henderson did resonated with the kids.

"People are prejudiced about hip-hop, but hip-hop isn't bad; it has different flavors. There can be bad hip-hop (just) like there can be bad R&B," said Brad Thompson, a former city councilman who facilitated the event's discussion.

Added Henderson: "We started this company to do something more to help inspire these kids to take education a lot more seriously. Is it going to change the world? Who knows. But I think that the music that they listen to can offer something more positive to put into their brains. As a man thinketh, so he is."

To find out more, visit www.smart-hiphop.com.

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