Civic Action

Taking hip hop back to its roots in community building

February 14, 2024  • Weave: The Social Fabric Project

Despite its global reach and popularity, hip hop has often gotten a bad rap. Famed rappers have songs that glorify violence, drugs, rape, crime, and hatred. Hardly the stuff of weaving, but Colby Jeffers is rapping to do something different.

His concerts start with a question. “What is one obstacle to building a better world?” He asks the audience to find someone they haven’t talked to before and take turns answering that question. He follows with two more questions: “What is one thing we can do to help our world?” and “Where can we start in our neighborhood?” 

“As an artist you sometimes feel that everyone is coming to see you and all their experience rides in how well you entertain them,” says Jeffers. “But if you get people interacting, it creates a much broader experience. You might have a six-year-old talking to a seventy-year-old about the main obstacles for building a better world. Maybe they don’t even remember the songs, but they remember that conversation.” 

A native of Phoenix, AZ, Jeffers started writing music and learning to rap in his twenties. He had grown up listening to hip hop and felt a deep connection with the roots of the genre. “It started as a movement to empower those who were marginalized. To create spaces where groups could come together and not be violent, but actually to be peaceful, to be united, to talk about essentially bettering the community and giving people confidence.”

As hip hop took off, that message got muddled. Jeffers attributes that to our broken world. “I think that not just in hip hop, but really in society, there are a lot of negative forces always at play, whether it is violence, drugs, or misogyny, it finds its way into every corner of our society.”

“For myself, I’m trying to tap into those values that I align with. Hip hop originated with a message of peace, love, and unity, and educating young people. I want to tap into that.” His music tackles themes inspired by his Baha’i faith, like unity, equality, and the importance of community. “My goal as an artist is to uplift, educate, and inspire,” Jeffers says.  

Most of his concerts happen in neighborhood gathering spots, like churches, parks, or community centers. The front area is reserved for kids to dance and sing along. Many of his songs are written for youth, which he aims to empower with messages of hope, like in his song, The Movement:

“The young ones, living in your prime, open up your eyes, it’s your time to shine. 

You have the powers that can bring about change or also bring pain… 

We are calling on you, help us make an improvement, 

Let’s use our powers for good, let’s change society.”

You can listen to his music on his website or attend one of his free concerts during his tour in Texas and New Mexico (February 13-20 2024).

This story was originally published on Weave’s newsletter, a weekly resource on how to weave our communities and restore social trust. Subscribe here.