PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY – Displaying high school pride through writing positive rap verses, and performing clean lyrics while using local high school locations as a backdrop, became fashionable for youth in Prince George’s County.
Andrew Messam, aka “DrewStar The Entertainer,” the 25-year-old founder of the High School Cypher (HSC) Project, and some of his musical relatives are to thank for that.
The Messam family operates a Silver Spring-based music video production company called Kno-Effort Productions and an independent record label called Black Liberty Records (BLR). On April 5, the Maryland House of Delegates acknowledged The DMV Prince George’s County High School Cypher by presenting an official House resolution, in recognition of publishing music that upholds the value of education and showcases the talent of positive young rap artists across Prince George's County.
Last February, rap music void of profanity gained the attention of Prince George’s County Del. Angela Angel, who represents District 25 in the Maryland House of Delegates. After discovering HSC through social media and learning the project engages youth in video and music production, Angel wanted the unique project to receive recognition through a House resolution.
“Videos that are unfortunate showcase to our youth, so I watched their two (HSC) videos with kids that were rapping. They weren’t cursing. They were talking about good things in school. And so I reached out and wanted to honor and recognize the work that they are doing, and encourage them to keep pushing,” Angel said.
In 2013, Messam was inspired to implement a platform for youth artists to be seen and heard, while getting more exposure for Kno-Effort Productions. His brother, Ramone Messam, previously established the successful cypher formula to promote upcoming local talent through the video production company. Kno-Effort Productions was cofounded by brothers Ramone and Jerome Messam.
Approximately 35 students attending more than 13 schools located in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County – such as Surrattsville High School, Suitland High School, Oxon Hill High School, Roosevelt High School, Grace Brethren Christian School, Laurel High School, Charles H. Flowers High School, Riverdale Baptist School and others – have had opportunities to showcase their rap talent in attention-grabbing Montgomery and Prince George’s County High School Cypher videos that are viewable on YouTube.
“One of the reasons why we recognize people on the (House) floor is to also extend the fact that we are doing great things here in Prince George’s County. You may hear about not great things happening in our schools – the fights or what our scores aren’t – but we have some really great things happening. So I want to make sure we are saying that loud and clear, and for the whole state to acknowledge that,” Angel said.
Angel said a partnership to highlight the HSC program, and annually recognize student participants, is in development. She also mentioned the value of budding rap artists learning collaboration and technical skills that are utilized.
“One of the things I know the leaders of the cypher want to do is to increase it more, so some youth can help with the video production, with the videography, with the editing, and to make it something that grows, that they’re able to participate in at a greater level,” Angel said.
Messam said he wanted to create leaders and compensate for the budgets cuts in school art programs, while offering opportunities for youth to participate in the HSC.
“We are going to take the High School Cypher music video platform nationwide and eventually worldwide,” Messam said.
He aspires to encourage youth to attend school and take academic responsibility for improving their grades, while encouraging creative expression of budding rap artists, writers, singers, editors, actors, poets, engineers and directors.
Evan Harrod, 17, is one of many youth who has received exposure through the HSC. Harrod attends Riverdale Baptist and said he often incorporates Christian values in the original rap lyrics he pens. He enjoys sharing his lyrical expressions through performing and said the HSC gives youth a positive focal point. He was permitted to participate in Prince George’s County High School Cypher 2 after submitting song samples with clean lyrics. His segment was recorded in the cafeteria of his school.
“A lot of positivity came out of it because (the video) was not only on WorldStar(HipHop) and YouTube, and received a lot of views, it was also featured on the radio on (WPGC) 95.5 with Tony Redz,” Harrod said. “Now, I actually have a chance to be heard.”
Alphonso Messam, the father and chief executive officer of family-owned Black Liberty Records, said that parents, teens and the general public appreciate the HSC platform.
“I observe that it also gives the teens a positive topic to talk and feel excited about. Now it seems everyone is eager to get to school to talk about who and what they saw in the HSC music videos, and everyone wants their school to be featured in the near future,” Alphonso said. “We have also received more exposure and people wanting to work with us to help get the HSC to other schools in other areas and parts of the country.”