Recording the future: Anti-gang CD project draws young Chattanooga artists

Recording the future: Anti-gang CD project draws young Chattanooga artists

February 5th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Gage Dwight, right, and Terrick Thorne lay a beat for a new song at South Chattanooga Recreation Center.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

RELEASE PARTY

A concert and CD release party for "Stars of Chattanooga" will be Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Hamilton Skate Place, 7414 Goodwin Road. With the venue's regular admission price of $9.50, attendees can attend a concert by the artists on the CD, receive a free CD (as long as supplies last) and rent skate equipment. Attendees also may receive photos of the artists and have them autographed. For information, call 643-6800.

He only stuck his toe in it, the stuff that's out there.

There was just the one incident, the possession of someone else's brass knucks in school and the suspension that followed.

But that's all in the past now, Gage Dwight says, the incident a result of trying "to fit in," of hanging around some "so-called friends" and of making some "dumb decisions."

He is aware of what's out there, though, and how it lurks like a zombie, ready to pounce, ready to tear into his brain.

Today, Gage, 15, is one of scores of mostly inner-city teenagers who have become involved in the city Parks and Recreation Department's Prevention and Youth Development recording studios in a space adjacent to the South Chattanooga Community Center.

Indeed, the Orchard Knob Middle School student has become so involved that he wrote, recorded and helped produce one of the songs on a CD that will be launched at a community-wide release party at the Hamilton Skate Place on Saturday.

The CD, "Stars of Chattanooga," includes songs of various styles that embody the sometimes violent, often confusing world in which teenagers live.

"All teenagers see and deal with the same things," says Boyd Patterson, director of the city's Gang Task Force, which is a partner in the project. "They all have ways to express themselves."

"Stars of Chattanooga" has 12 tracks, one of which is the rap number "Swagg Goo" that Gage -- known as Gkay on the release -- recorded with friend Terrick Thorne.

"Swagg-Goo," he says, expresses the thought that everyone should dress in their own style, their own swag.

It's not the only song he's written, though.

Gage says his other songs talk about "some of the things we do as kids" -- going to the mall, talking about cars they want, describing the girls they like. If there was a theme, he says, it would be "to be yourself" -- not to copy someone else's style, not "to be a hater."

Terrick, 13, says he knows what's out there, too, and -- barring one suspension -- has managed to stay out of trouble.

"I want to show and tell people what I do," and not conform to "what people do around me," the East Hamilton Middle School student says.

In addition to teaming with Gage on "Swagg Goo," Terrick -- known as T-Rollin on the release -- has "Stunt Like Dat" on the CD.

Before he came to the community center, he says, "I didn't know how to do any of this."

Marcus Thomas, director of Prevention and Youth Development Services, says the CD won't just become yesterday's project after the release party. He plans to get it into the hands of record executives and other professionals.

"We want to push on from there," he says.

That sounds good to Gage, who would like the opportunity to "express my feelings in music," "tell other people's stories," and "get out of a bad neighborhood and move to another place."

"Yes sir," he says, "I would enjoy being famous for my music."

Patterson says "Stars of Chattanooga" grew out of a three-part effort that began with a talent competition in 2012. Word of mouth drew interested teenagers to the recording studios -- there's also one at Eastdale Community Center -- and also attracted 130 songs.

"When it come to resonating [with teenagers]," he says, "you have to speak their language."

The second part, according to Patterson, involved selecting the best songs, producing them with the help of Prevention and Youth Development staff member Reginald Cooper and WJTT-FM Power 94 radio personality Big Tula, and having them played on a weekly show on the station.

The final segment involved finishing the project, the release party and planning for the next recording.

Patterson says the project, in which the teens not only expressed their creativity but learned numerous aspects of the recording industry, is just one local alternative to becoming involved in gang violence.

But "you can't tell kids to stay away from gangs without something for them to go toward," he says.

The recording, says Patterson, is comparable to the best R&B and rap songs on the radio today.

"The music speaks for itself," he says.