Martin: Building community via rap battles

Martin: Building community via rap battles

November 10th, 2017 by David Martin in Opinion Free Press Commentary

John Moore and Sammy Lowdermilk started Hip-Hop CHA after a series of discussions among numerous locals revealed a shared desire for a music festival featuring the area's best hip-hop talent. (Photo courtesy of

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If you read this column regularly, you're likely aware I'm a big believer in the power of civil society, which can simply be defined as society sans government.

We're so used to our elected officials and bureaucrats fixing things for us that we easily forget just how impactful individuals and small groups can be; how a good idea, believed in and pursued by even just a handful of advocates, can make a meaningful difference in the lives of many.

Take, for example, the work of John Moore and Sammy Lowdermilk, co-founders of an organization named Hip-Hop CHA.

Roughly a year ago, John and Sammy started Hip-Hop CHA after a series of discussions among numerous locals revealed a shared desire for a music festival featuring the area's best hip-hop talent.

David Martin

David Martin

On the chance you're not too well-versed in the hip-hop world, Southern artists have influenced the music genre in major ways since the mid-1990s. Most bigger cities in the region have their own roster of notable acts. Atlanta is usually thought of as the mecca of Southern rap, but places like Memphis, New Orleans and Houston also have churned out loads of marquee hip-hop names.

John and Sammy knew that Chattanooga, on a smaller scale, could contribute similarly. However, they also knew that a successful festival showcasing our city's artists would require more than slapping an event together.

There needed to be more substance. Something deeper.

So they positioned the festival as a culmination, of sorts, of a longer-term community-building effort. Because that's what the hip-hop scene here was missing more than anything: a dedicated, unifying force bringing people together to collaborate, compete, promote each other and sharpen each other's skills.

Area nonprofits have Causeway. Startup businesses have Co.Lab and Launch. Rappers now have Hip-Hop CHA.

I asked Sammy earlier this week to tell me about Hip-Hop CHA's first year. He talks about it like a proud parent. As he should.

In its first year alone, the organization has worked with nearly 100 area acts and promoted multiple concerts attracting thousands of attendees. But it's about more than putting on shows. It also has hosted networking events and educational classes.

And it's those offstage endeavors that point to Hip-Hop CHA's greatest strength, its holistic approach to cultivating artists. Sure, providing a music venue and a good sound system is important, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Evidence of this can be found in the itinerary for Hip-Hop CHA's inaugural festival next Saturday — yes, it's happening — at the Revelry Room and elsewhere on the Choo Choo campus. In addition to a dizzying schedule of performances, attendees can participate in classes about marketing, how to book a show and how to monetize online music platforms.

Essentially, they can learn how to be a professional.

Casting an eye forward, I had to ask Sammy about the biggest roadblocks facing the organization he and John started. He named two big ones.

The first is funding. I had assumed Hip-Hop CHA was attracting funds from local foundations, but no. It's self-supported by event ticket sales and, well, the organizers' own wallets. That's amazing.

The second struggle is having to continually push back against preconceived stereotypes, that hip-hop is synonymous with gangsta rap — you know, the kind Tipper Gore warned you about. Sammy wants to change not only perceptions about the music but also perceptions of hip-hop culture.

That, he says, will pave the way for more wins.

What John and Sammy have created is worth applauding. And supporting.

Chattanoogans are rarely shy when it comes to bragging about our startup scene, and Hip-Hop CHA easily could be one of our most successful.

Contact David Allen Martin at and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315