DOWNTOWN — A coalition of Chicago's top rappers are heeding the call that hip-hop artists take on more social responsibility — and they said a new music festival and the creation of a youth-oriented job collaborative were just the start.
Hip-hop heavyweights and Chicago natives Common and Che "Rhymefest" Smith announced the South Side festival and the jobs initiative Wednesday afternoon at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The music lineup, dubbed "AAHH! Fest" and planned for Sept. 20-21 at Jackson Park, is still under wraps, according to Tamara Brown, executive director at the Common Foundation, but the job collaborative has already kicked into high gear.
The Chicago Youth Jobs Collaborative aims to provide year-round employment for thousands of young people ages 16-24 by bringing some of the biggest names in hip-hop together with community and business organizations including the Chicago Urban League, Donda's House and the Common Ground Foundation, which was founded by Common in 2000.
“I see what’s going on in the city. We all see it. Anytime I hear about anybody getting shot, young people with guns, it hurts me,” Common said. "We all feel good to have a job. I'm working on my new album, and I feel good just to say I'm working.
"These kids are no different from me in the way we grew up. It opened my eyes and I said, 'I have to do more.'"
The program's inaugural session is slated for the fall starting with 1,000 jobs. Organizers will seek to add 1,000 employees per year over the next four years after that, according to Brown.
Organizers said they would work with the private sector to identify jobs in a variety of areas.
The year-round employment — in contrast to many programs that only offer temporary summer work — is an attempt by the artists and organizations to fight dwindling opportunities for minority, low-income youth already served by community groups in the city.
They want a chance, like Chance the Rapper ... they want opportunities," Common quipped, referencing another up-and-coming native son of Chicago's hip-hop scene. Chance the Rapper's father, Ken Bennett, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also attended Wednesday's gathering.
"Poverty is something that can break any man or woman down," Common said, adding that while he's proud to be from Chicago, he's not proud of labels like "Chiraq."
According to Smith, programs like Common Ground and the Lupe Fiasco Foundation are already supporting youth with "beautiful stories," but Wednesday's announcement is an effort to expand those services.
Both the festival and the job collaborative will let underserved youth "take the show on the road."