Philly Got Barz returns for a second year under the leadership of Mission Incorporated founder Lawanda Horton-Sauter. Following the same procedures as last year, the competition will allow rappers from across the city to compete for a $2,000 prize in hopes of hindering gun violence.
Horton-Sauter says providing positive outlets is important for reducing gun violence. “This is hugely important because the time that these guys would be standing on the street corner trying to make money by illegal means, they’re now directing that energy to writing music so that they can win that $2,000,” she says.
While boldly proclaiming the anti-violence mission, she is realistic about how much of an impact the contest can have. “In my own small way, am I going to keep them off the streets for six to twelve months? No. Not unless I’m funded. But it could happen. Even if for a month or two, I’m keeping them inside.”
She says with more funding, she could make a more significant difference.
Last year’s winner, Zykeea, or “Wild Child,” echoes Horton-Sauter’s sentiments, saying, “I think anything that can just take the youth, or people in general, and take their mind away from the streets or the beef is definitely a good thing. And this is definitely one of those things. They can just put their focus on something else and come together as a community and do good.”
Horton-Sauter uses hip-hop as a vehicle for this work because the genre is often overstated as a harmful genre, producing crime and violence.
“I view all this work that I’m doing like, what would be a crazy way to solve violence? Let’s use the most violent music there is out there and flip this whole concept on its head. Show people that by allowing people to speak their truth and tell their stories of what’s really going on out here,” she said.
Wild Child refutes the idea that hip-hop is an incentive for violence. “I wouldn’t say it’s hip-hop itself. I would say that the people are using hip-hop as an excuse. Hip-hop is the tool that they’re using – it isn’t the violence.”
Last year the contest required “positive” lyrics, but Horton-Sauter says that’s not the case this time. She says not censoring lyrics will help her learn the possible motivations of violence within the community. “If we ask them to come and say things we would like for them to say, then we’re never going to figure out what’s actually going on. I think there’s always potential for pushback about me doing an antivolence event where there’s no censorship. But if I don’t, then I don’t get it – I don’t get to understand what’s motivating that person to pick up a gun.”
She says the contest is also a learning experience for her, where she begins to understand some of the causes of violence.
“A lot of it has to do with personal romantic relationships. A lot of [the violence] is coming from that. Some of it, to a lesser extent, is disagreements around music or business or whatever is taken to Instagram. And then once it becomes a public shaming situation, then it becomes a real-life violent situation,” she says.
The connections Horton-Sauter made with last year’s contest participants are the primary reason she brought back the competition for a second year. “I wasn’t going to do another one,” she says. “But my guys said we need you to do this again. They were like, we’ve never seen nothing like this. I have feedback from young men – I’m talking street dudes – [saying] you raised the bar.”
This year’s competition will occur on October 28 at 1919 Medary Avenue. Horton-Sauter says attendees can expect giveaways, vendors, celebrity guest judges, and a “promotion of hip-hop culture, celebrating the 50th [anniversary].”
To participate, folks should post their under 1-minute rap video with the “#phillygotbarz” hashtag and @realmissioninc tag in the caption. Submissions are valid through September 23 at midnight. First-round contestants will be announced ahead of the event.
Wild Child gives her winner’s advice for future contestants, saying, “Go hard, man. Since it’s the second year and more people know about it, competition is going to come even harder. But believe in yourself. Lock in, and don’t take it as a joke.”