Story by Debbi Casini Klein | Audio edited by Louis D’Aria | Photo courtesy the Sprout Fund
Emmai Alaquiva is an award-winning music producer and entrepreneur and has parlayed his accomplishments into mentoring kids, through hip hop music.
He has found a way to infuse positive hip hop with education to get teens excited about music and learning.
“Growing up, life sort of gives you the moves that you need to dodge,” Emmai said. “I was hit with adversity, homelessness, death. It really had me down a valley, but I realized there were mountains ahead. Hip hop spoke to me in a way that nothing had the ability to speak to me.”
After years of homelessness and selling drugs on the streets, Emmai turned his life around and put himself through college, working any job possible to purchase a small recording studio on Highland Avenue. Years later, at the zenith of his successful Emmy-award winning music career, he knew it was time to give back through music.
“I started an arts education and mentoring program that employs hip hop as a tool to educate and empower young people K-12 and beyond,” Emmai said.
It’s called Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., stands for Leadership development, Organizational skills, Cooperative economics and Knowledge of the music business.
What started with 16 students has now grown to more than 5,000 in Western Pennsylvania. They’re learning math, English and more, using hip hop as a part of the learning process. Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. also includes video and radio programs which are co-produced by students.
“When kids go through Hip Hop On L.O.C.K., so many of them come in troubled, come in not wanting to do anything with their lives, come in not just being unsure about their capabilities and the things they’re capable of and what they can do,” said 17-year-old Marna Owens,the the radio station’s program director.
London Reece is 16 and has also been mentored by Emmai. Even though she’s only known him for a little over a year, Emmai has already become an inspiration and role model to her.
“Emmai helps me to embrace my flaws and my strengths and to use them in the real world,” London said. “It’s positive music, not just music talking about all of the vulgar things that happen in Pittsburgh. It’s positive things like ‘I want to go to high school, I want to get an education, I want to have a job.’ I think he does that really well.”
As a mentor, Emmai feels he the conduit for young people doing great things.
“The best way to move forward is to give back,” he said. “We all have a gift, and what good is a gift if you don’t share it?”