Hip Hop Project breaks down collaborative barriers with new music tech partnership

Hip Hop Project officers Meredith Howell, Kendall Griffith and Akeem Blalock-Cotton are breaking down barriers for musicians and artists on campus while cultivating and promoting hip hop culture. Their partnership with Quadio brings new opportunities for collaboration and growth. Photos by Erin Zanders.

Music can certainly be made by an individual. You can compose a piano solo or create a beat on your computer. But music really comes alive in a moment of collaboration, when two or more musicians connect and bring their individual talents, voices and experiences together to create something better than what they could make on their own.

The Hip Hop Project (HHP) at NC State is a student organization that was formed to ignite that spirit of collaboration and community on campus — a goal it shares with the Department of Music — to bring artistic minds together to create music and art and promote hip hop culture. The current student leadership team believes the group was originally founded in 2014 or 2015, but wasn’t able to establish a solid presence on campus. HHP’s president Akeem Blalock-Cotton, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said that he could see the importance of the community that the group sought to build, and worked tirelessly last fall to get HHP registered as an official student organization in order to continue building that community. 

HHP’s longest running and most recognized initiative on campus is a series of open mic nights which are inclusive of all genres and forms of creative expression. “We’ve had people dance, we’ve had people perform spoken word, they’ve rapped, they sang, they’ve done all the things they could possibly do,” said Blalock-Cotton. “We genuinely allow all creative forms to enter the space because that’s what hip hop is. That’s what music is, and that’s what the culture is.

The group is growing and finding its footing on campus, and recently established connections with the Department of Music to expand its reach, but it’s not yet large enough to attract a lot of attention from outside of NC State. Given that and the fact that she is not a musician, HHP secretary Kendall Griffith, a sophomore majoring in sociology, was surprised and excited when she was approached to serve as a campus rep for a new music streaming platform called Quadio, which launched its invite-only artist beta on Jan. 14. 

Quadio is a college-based social network for discovering, streaming and sharing music created by college students from across the country and on your own campus. For listeners, it’s a tool for discovering music you won’t find anywhere else, learning about the creative students on your own campus, and expressing school pride by upvoting your classmates to the top of the charts.

But the value of the platform to musicians and artists is what excited Griffith and made her agree to serve as NC State’s campus rep. “I feel like Quadio is what HHP wants to do but in the [social] network form,” said Griffith. “I think that it will make collaboration a lot easier on campus. You think [NC State is] small but there’s still 30,000 people who go here. So then to think about that, it’s like, what is the likelihood of me being able to connect with all of these artists? It’s still just word of mouth and if you happen to come across them on social media, or if you happen to come across them in one of your classes. But you’re always meeting someone new who’s an artist and you didn’t even know. So I think that it will just make artists on campus more visible, for one, and make collaboration more accessible.”

Quadio allows a musician to upload their music in either complete or work-in-progress forms, and to indicate the genre and whether they’re seeking a particular type of collaborator. You can search down to your individual university campus level to find musicians who may be living in your own dorm, or at the regional level, to collaborate with musicians at Duke, NC Central or UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Music department lecturer Aaron Keane, a composer and audio engineer who teaches Songwriting with Digital Audio Workstations (MUS 270 and 370), provides opportunities for collaboration in his classes and sees potential applications for Quadio in that context. “The element of sharing and peer review is a big part of my class,” said Keane, “so right from the beginning the students are creating things, free writing, and creating instrumental music to begin with, and later on more complicated things, songs with lyrics. We listen to each of their pieces of music and critique them. It’s more accolade than critique, because we’re creating a positive environment where people can share and give each other ideas and then they can collaborate on the next project together.”

Keane compares the physical collaborative space of MUS 270 and 370 to what Quadio is creating digitally. “It’s a community of practice,” he said, “a physical or electronic place where people get together and collaborate and knock around ideas and create a space that works for them.” 

Blalock-Cotton, who is taking Keane’s class this semester, sees Quadio as a natural partner for HHP and an expansion of what the group is able to offer to students at NC State. “Quadio is offering resources to promote exactly what we intend to do as an organization, and that’s to allow others to express themselves and have this vast platform to do so,” he said. “So it’s kind of a beacon that we have for allowing others who find us to have even greater opportunities.”

When a musician uploads a track to Quadio, it lands on their school’s Discover page right at the top, in chronological order. This gives your song exposure to everyone in your university community who’s on the platform at that time. Everyone has an equal chance of breaking through. 

“That’s the whole thing about the music industry is that it’s intimidating in general,” said Griffith. “That’s one thing that I think differentiates Quadio. It’s not about how many followers you have, it’s purely about your music. It’s purely about, do people like your song, is your song getting plays, and is your song at the top?

“When you’re starting out as an artist, it’s so hard to get clout because you’re just starting off and everyone’s like, ‘Who are you? You have nine followers, no.’ It’s sad when there are people who are actually talented and enjoy making music and want to do that, but the Instagram algorithm is for people who are getting comments and getting likes and all of that. And that’s the stuff that’s gonna show up. So when you can have something that’s exclusively based on your music and your talent, it’s a really good thing.” 

 As people on campus listen to a particular song and like it on Quadio, it will rise up NC State’s chart and then the state, regional and national charts, exposing the song to college audiences across the country. It puts everyone on a level playing field, which would make it less intimidating to contact a rapper at Boston College to pitch a collaboration on the track you’ve been working on in MUS 270 or on your own. 

Griffith and HHP look forward to partnering with Quadio on campus events that bring artists and musicians together. HHP’s student leadership is dreaming big, imagining concerts that draw Quadio artists from neighboring universities, or networking events that connect songwriters with producers with videographers, and more. 

Students who join our organization, they’re not just joining a student organization. They’re going to be able to have a connection for themselves as well,” said Griffith, “so it’ll expand our reach on campus and help us expand our reach outside of the campus and connect with other universities too.”

Coming up this semester, HHP will continue to host open mic nights, and will introduce a new workshop series. Session topics will include arts entrepreneurship, DJing and hip hop dance and will be open first to members of HHP and then to the public as space allows. Their DJ workshop is up first, in partnership with NC State University Libraries, on Feb. 20.

To learn more about the Hip Hop Project, contact hhpncsu@gmail.com or follow them on Instagram.