The University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives will host its annual Passing the Mic event this weekend that will celebrate the transformational potential of hip hop arts in the Madison community and on the UW-Madison campus. This is the 12th annual Passing the Mic event, one of the truly diverse, multicultural events that the city of Madison will see.

“It actually started out as a Latino Film Festival Cine Fest. This was before OMAI and First Wave even existed,” remembers Willie Ney, executive director of OMAI. “Through the years, things morphed a bit and when First Wave came to campus it just made sense to host something that was much more multicultural and focused on urban arts.”

Willie Ney
Willie Ney

OMAI’s First Wave Learning Community is the first university program in the country centered on urban arts, spoken word, and hip-hop culture. OMAI’s mission is to provide innovative, culturally relevant hip-hop art programs to inspire engagement, learning, and activism for diverse communities. The inaugural First Wave cohort of 15 students began their UW-Madison career in the Fall 2007 Semester and currently there are more than 70 spoken-word and hip hop artists on full-tuition scholarship or that have graduated from the First Wave Program.

“The current version of Pass the Mic for the past 4-5 years has been an opportunity for students from around the Midwest — talented young artists from urban areas like Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago — to come to Madison to be part of an amazing, transformational experience. They get to have a wonderful three-day experience and meet some of the celebrities and stars in this genre.”

The Wisconsin Book Festival has been a partner for many years for Passing the Mic which involves First Wave scholars, teen artists from across the Midwest and internationally renowned performing artists and scholars that will include:
◆ Toni Blackman (New York City), an actress, artist and former American cultural specialist in Hip Hop to the U.S. Department of State
◆ Jeff Chang (San Francisco Bay area), an author and executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University
◆ Chris Emdin (New York City), professor at Columbia University and STEAM Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State
◆ Brian Mooney (New Jersey), author and educator
◆ Xuman (Senegal), Hip Hop artist, activist and TV co-host for “Journal Rappe”
◆ Rain Wilson (Chicago and Madison) writer, performer, teacher and director

Rain Wilson
Rain Wilson

“We thrive on the fact that we do have such a broad reach in communities of color and so everybody can go to these events and feel really comfortable,” Ney says. “It’s kinda like going to a good friend’s event … everybody feels like they are at home. That’s something I think is really important.”

The theme for this year’s Passing the Mic event is “Hip Hop Education in the Classroom, Community, and Beyond.”

“OMAI, along with our partner Urban Word New York City, we really want to show our talent. We’re showcasing and highlighting teachers and educators who use the pedagogy that they use from the institutes and they will talk about their best practices and using this new, revolutionary student-centered pedagogy in their respective classrooms,” Ney says. “It’s a great way to showcase what we do in terms of really deep training and transformational training.

But, Ney adds, it’s not just about what they are doing here in Wisconsin. “By having Xuman and Toni Blackman at the event, we will have a global context to it,” he says. “Xuman is one of Senegal’s top two or three emcees in the country who has a whole bunch of hip-hop/art projects he is doing in the community. He’s very much a social justice activist. Toni Blackman is a global citizen who was the first-ever U.S. ambassador to the state department for Hip-Hop.


“The time is coming now with this pedagogy that it is very clearly having an impact on the global, national, and now local levels,” he adds.

A highlight of this year’s Passing the Mic event will be the Hip Hop Education Summit on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Overture Center which, Ney says, is totally full.

“It shows that people are no longer skeptical when you mention Hip-Hop and education,” Ney says. “I think we’ve done a decent job over the years really showing that there is a beautiful side of Hip-Hop that is community-based and multicultural that is positive and empowering. It’s taken a long time to get to this tipping point where we now have to turn away people who want to come because people are so excited about attending these events. It’s definitely a changing paradigm.”

Other highlights from the 2016 Passing the Mic schedule of events – all of them taking place at the Overture Center for the Arts Promenade Hall (201 State St, Madison) unless noted otherwise – will include:

◆ Thursday, October 20, 7-9:30 p.m.
Passing the Mic/All Elements Hip Hop Arts Showcase featuring Midwest Hip Hop All Stars
This will be hosted by Toni Blackman and First Wave and will include performances by youth poetry slam and hip hop artists from Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Madison, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

◆ Friday, October 21, 5:30-7 p.m.
First Wave Voices
Gloria Ladson Billings will host First Wave poets as they put their unique poetic spin on the theme of the Passing the Mic festival “Hip Hop Education in the Classroom and Beyond.”

Gloria Ladson-Billings
Gloria Ladson-Billings

8-9:30 p.m.
Showcase: Making Waves Across the World will be a joint performance by MC Legend Toni Blackman and Senegalese sensation Xuman along with a special presentation by the 10th Cohort of First Wave.

◆ Saturday, October 22
10 a.m.-2:45 p.m.
Hip Hop Education Summit is where Passing the Mic guest artists will meet with K-12 teachers and students to showcase the power and potential of using hip hop methodologies in the classroom.

3 p.m.
Jeff Chang Book Release of “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation” at the Madison Central Library, Rooms 301 & 302 (201 West Mifflin St)

6-7 p.m.
Brian Mooney and Chris Emdin book signing at A Room of One’s Own (315 W Gorham St)

8-10 p.m.
Xuman featuring Rain Wilson, First Wave alum Myriha Burton and a follow-up panel discussion featuring community leaders.

Ney wants to make sure the community knows that Passing the Mic is free and open to the public.

“It’s a transformational experience. There will be the full range at this event,” he says. “We’ll have some of the best young artists from this region and they will be dancing, they will be speaking, they will be doing spoken-word [poetry]. You will get to see the talent of this next generation of students.

“I think in these days and these times where people are really frustrated and angry and upset, this is a hopeful festival,” Ney adds. “You can just see the celebration; the depth and the range of the talent of young communities of color in our country and the world. For those who are new to the event, it will be a lifetime experience. For those people who have, it will once again be an empowering journey.”

For more information on the 12th annual Passing the Mic Festival, click here.