It’s down to 20 finalists competing for a $2,000 grand prize in an anti-violence rap contest called “Philly Got Barz.” The final call for submissions was on July 8, and finalists got chosen two weeks ago from 50 entries.

Mission Incorporated, a nonprofit consulting firm that helps grassroots organizations build capacity, birthed the concept while brainstorming new ways to reach the community around heightening city violence rates. And as a former hip-hop artist who has opened for Queen Latifah, President and CEO Lawanda Horton-Sauter knows how music influences young minds — both positively and negatively.

“I’ve always loved hip-hop, and I’ve always known the power of hip-hop. And I know it to be a catalyst of violence,” says Horton-Sauter. “But what if we use the very thing that we thought was causing violence to change the situation in our neighborhood?”

Horton-Sauter says she wants to accomplish three things with the contest. First, contestants will become plugged into Mission Incorporated’s network and informed about future initiatives to benefit the community, like voter education and how to start a business. Second, the contestants will connect with organizations and music-industry contacts to further their careers. For this reason, Horton-Sauter has offered graphic designers and studio owners a free spot to table at the event. Lastly, she hopes the event will bring more eyes to Mission Incorporated’s work, which can help raise the organization’s profile.

She also mentions that the time contestants spend working on their material for the contest is more time they can put into honing their skills, chasing their dreams, and staying safe. When asked about the themes of the raps, Sauter said that contestants weren’t given one to avoid censorship and to encourage them to show up as their most authentic selves.

She says, “We wanted them to feel calm. We wanted everyone to feel comfortable being their true self and telling their story. They’re telling stories of having lost people. They’re telling stories of their challenges on the street.” Sauter says given the anti-violence mission of the contest, the rappers have responded with songs that fit the message.

The 20 contestants will battle it out on Saturday, August 27, 2022, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Johnson Youth Services, 1919 Medary Avenue. Guests can expect games, prizes, resource tables, and more. Tickets are required, but guests can get free tickets on the Mission Incorporated website. You can stay updated on Instagram.

Sauter ends with, “I just love Philadelphia. I want people to know that this project and every project that I do is a love letter to the city.”