BRONZEVILLE — In one corner of the church's basement, a group of teens play a videogame.
Other teens sit on an old couch nearby, laughing and talking. They are surrounded by recording equipment and other music-making materials.
When a delivery man shows up with two large pizzas, everyone runs to grab a slice.
Welcome to Haven Studio, a music mentoring nonprofit that launched last July. Rapper Add-2, whose real name is Andre Daniels, opened the studio to create a safe space for teens ages 14-18. The West Englewood native, who now lives in Chatham, has performed with The Roots and appeared on MTV2, MTVU, Fuse, Hot97 and Shade 45.
"He is somebody who seems like he really cares about the culture and cares about uplifting people, and that's inspirational to see," said rapper Common, according to a statement on Add-2's website.
These days Add-2 is focusing most of his time on the young people who come to the studio seeking a listener, studio time or just a distraction from their problems, he said.
“We’ve had discussions about things like depression and suicide,” he said.
Sometimes after they’re done recording a new song, he’ll talk to them about the lyrics as a way to get them to open up about their feelings.
The doors are open 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday-Friday in the basement of Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist, 4622 S. King Drive. This is his first nonprofit and he said he’s able to combine both of his passions — music and mentoring.
Bryant Jones, a Bronzeville rapper, who goes by Jilla, comes to Haven Studio to "hang out." [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
For young adults like Bryant Jones, a Bronzeville rapper who goes by “Jilla,” the organization is a great place to be, especially when he’s going through tough times.
“Some days I feel the pressure from the weight of the world, so most days when I feel like that, I come here,” he said. “I don’t even leave the same way I came, like I’ll [come in mad] but [leave] with a solution if there’s a problem.”
Jilla said he lost some friends — which isn’t uncommon for other participants. That’s what led him to make music, which is another way to express himself in addition to creating art, he explained.
“It’s a nice outlet,” he said. “You can exhibit your pain, triumph, anything that you feel. So with my craft, as far as rapping, I’m here to tell a story. I want it to be heard.”
Although he grew up on the South Side, which has been challenging, he said his surroundings don’t define him.
“I feel like the system we’re in is designed for us to fail,” Jilla said, but despite that, he has overcome every obstacle so far.
“I want to be the success story,” he said. “The one that lost his friends, but didn’t pick up a gun, or did something for the community.”
Add-2 helps him improve his craft and is relatable, Jilla said, adding that he can talk to him about anything.
Haven Studio, 4622 S. King Drive is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
“Once I got here I never left,” Jilla said. “The people in here push me to do better. A space like this allows people to go out in their environment and not have to their guard up and that’s the biggest thing. Everybody in Chicago has their guard up.”
Twenty-year-old Marquita “Mo The Poet” Anderson, also a Bronzeville resident, started with spoken word and then added rapping to her skill set.
It was the loss of a friend to gun violence that pulled her to rap, she said.
"I lost my best friend,” she said, adding that writing became a coping mechanism.
“At first it began to be poems, then I started to feel a little bit of frustration and wanted to let out a little more anger so I started writing to beats,” Anderson said.
She started coming to Haven Studio in January through her friend Moses, she said.
When not at Eastern University, where she’s pursuing a degree in psychology, she’s there with others she refers to as “family.”
“I really feel at home here,” Anderson said. “It’s always a good laugh so even if I come here and don’t record, I will come here just because of the vibes in general.”
The fact that everyone can use the equipment for free is another plus. Most of the artists said they tried other places, but were charged either per the hour or a flat rate. Having access to these resources is amazing, they said.
Jeffrey “Smokes” Grays, a 19-year-old rapper from Humboldt Park travels to Bronzeville to record his music.
He learned about the studio last summer while working through the city's One Summer Chicago job program.
Since last August, Smokes has recorded a “ton of music,” he said.
“This place is a safe place for all,” he said. Before coming, he said he had his guard up because he’s heard a lot of negative things about the community.
“My first time coming here, it wasn’t what people said,” he said. “It was actually a safe place, especially here. “You can open up. Add-2 really shows us that you can be yourself here, you don’t have to be anybody else.”
Add-2 said that his expectations have been exceeded and that he loves spending time with the teens. There are about 15 teens and young adults who drop in regularly, but the organization serves about 100 overall.
“I let them see all sides of me,” he said. “I’m not perfect. We talk about the mistakes I’ve made.”
He said he likes the intimate setting and hopes to see other people implement his model.