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Figureheads hip hop group uplifts, inspires local youth

(From left) Dave Olson, Jeremy Bryan and Greg Marshall are Figureheads, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring youth with hip hop.

(From left) Dave Olson, Jeremy Bryan and Greg Marshall are Figureheads, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring youth with hip hop.

May 27, 2014

Hales Corners — Not all musicians write uplifting lyrics, but when they do, the impact catches on.

The Figureheads hip hop group are such musicians.

The band, which writes lyrics and beats to inspire kindergarteners through high schoolers, will perform at Hales Corners Public Library on Wednesday, June 18.

"We try to provide ways for kids to feel affirmed in their life," said Jeremy Bryan, spokesman for the group, which became a nonprofit in 2007. "The idea is that this is a public service, and the goal of this music is to be a source of refreshment with the partnerships we have with schools and nonprofits."

Two founding members, Greg Marshall and Bryan, met at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as two English majors who loved hip hop. They started writing what Bryan called "intelligent hip hop" while actively working with after-school programs and kids with autism. At that point, a child psychologist took interest in the Figurehead's impact and financed the band's album and connected them with performances at middle schools and teacher and autism conferences.

Dave Olson had also joined to create the band's beats and electronic rhythm.

Four years after the band's first recording, it became a nonprofit organization, Figureheads, Inc., to serve Greater Milwaukee and Madison youth. All three members have extensive experience with homeless, troubled, disabled and central-city youth.

The result is both an "artistic enterprise and literacy exercise," Bryan said.

The members teach students how to write a whole song for themselves. With enough time, students even create the song's rhythm and beat and then record it.

"As we go through the song-writing process, we encourage parallels to essay writing and academic forms of writing that they will need," Bryan said.

With albums such as "Fire in the Soul," the Figureheads' lyrics urge students to express their hidden interests and talents to create a "spark that catches fire in some ways," he added.

The style of performance at the Hales Corners Public Library will be very fun and improvisational. Olson will bring his drum machine and make up beats on the spot, while Bryan improvises lyrics based on what audience members tell him to rap about.

There will also be plenty of dancing for the little kids, Bryan said.

The Figureheads have recorded nine albums to date; the latest is "Holy Monkey Mixtape." Visit Figureheadsinc.org for more information on the band's music and history.

FOR MORE INFO

What: Wide-a-Wake hip hop performance by the Figureheads

Where: Hales Corners Public Library, 5885 S. 116th St.

When: 10:30 a.m. June 18

Cost: Free, no registration required

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