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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 08:51 pm

Hip-hop heroes


Torch and Habilis Riccardo performing at Torch Tuesdays at Bar None.

I must admit to being rather ignorant of rap and hip-hop music styles. I’ve heard certain artists and felt the influence of the genre in contemporary music, but overall I’ve not listened deep into the catalogue of this fairly new variety of music.

All through the history of popular music the improvisation and musicality of the African-American community infused an incredible influence in the stylistic movement of popular music. Jazz, ragtime, blues, rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll are all based on black music, or at one time, what was called “race records,” in rather poor taste by the ruling white class looking for a categorization of something they didn’t comprehend. Not only did they not understand the rhythmic and melodically different styles, many decent folks were terrified by the originating subculture and worried about its effect on the mainstream of society. Yes, once upon a time, old-time rock ’n’ roll was considered the devil’s music, sent here in the 1950s to destroy the American way of life.

In response to the lack of participants in IT’s 2012 Best of Springfield hip-hop category, Aaron Phillips, a local hip-hop supporter, emailed information about the genre’s current situation in the capital city. Phillips is the present host of Torch Tuesdays, an open mic for rap and hip-hop artists held for more than three years every Tuesday night at Bar None. Named after Torch, an area resident, performer and community organizer, the weekly event attracts occasional artists from Peoria, St. Louis and Chicago, as well as local purveyors in the art of rapping, emceeing, disc jockeying, making dance music and other forms of the “hip-hop culture.” Along with Phillips as host, house DJ Yatti Dny keeps the music flowing and Picture Perfect photographers capture the moment, with Torch as the guiding light and philosophical leader of the movement.

“We are trying to raise the social awareness of hip-hop along with giving performers a chance to work on their show,” said Torch. “This is our way of giving back to the community by teaching respect and professionalism for the art. I put that on myself and challenge others to do so too.”

Considered one of the most respected open mics for hip-hop in the Midwest, Torch Tuesdays now features scheduled guest artists and has spawned other local open mics at the Sandtrap on Thursdays and Four Seasons on Fridays. Beyond the music and performance aspect, Torch is adamant about supporting the community by offering aid to folks from disadvantaged backgrounds while promoting the positive side of the culture.

“We want this music to be more approachable and to destroy the stereotypes that go along with it to help hip-hop become as respectable as other forms of music,” he said. “One of the guys killed over the weekend was a producer of hip-hop, but all that was reported on was his criminal record. That was what they knew about him, the negative side. We want to shed light on the whole story.”

One way that Phillips and Torch spread the good works is by gathering donations during Torch Tuesdays. They’ve already collected more than $400 and bought hats and gloves to be distributed to needy kids at Matheny-Winthrop School. Any volunteers are welcome to meet at the school at 1 p.m. on Dec. 18 to help pass out the donated items. Other plans include a hip-hop-oriented Internet radio and video show, encouraging small and new businesses to participate in events and hosting a music awards show on Jan. 22.

“People fear what they don’t understand,” said Torch. “The more they know the more they can accept, and that makes a better world for all of us.”

Contact Tom Irwin at

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