Mad Beatz Philly, a Kensington-based youth drumline group, has been combining hip-hop music and drum beats for nearly two decades. However, the driving force behind the organization is much bigger: long-term investment in the youth of the community.
Through its after-school program, Mad Beatz has helped launch many students into careers in music and education, said Mad Beatz founder Jesse Mell.
“We are career training for the future drum teachers and professional drummers of Philadelphia, starting at age 13,” Mell said. “The greater vision is to create equity in music education by designing curriculum intentionally around the rhythmic vocabulary of Black and Latino people.”
A part of Mad Beatz’ philosophy is for students to hold on to their cultural roots of Latin and African beats rather than accept a traditional music curriculum, he added.
Mad Beatz had its beginnings when Mell started teaching drumline programs to students at Kensington High School in 2003. It was there that he worked with students to incorporate “DJ Drumline,” a new method of drumline percussion that mixes drumline beats with pre-recorded hip-hop and dance music. Around 2013, Mad Beatz became a professional group outside of school and started performing at events.
Now, with a new music video, the drummers of Mad Beatz and local emcees Domino and Shxuto are encouraging Philadelphians to get vaccinated for the sake of their communities. The project was funded through a grant from Philly Counts, the City of Philadelphia’s office in charge of community engagement efforts for the COVID-19 vaccine.
With the grant, Mad Beatz was able to purchase new drums, uniforms, equipment, and pay Domino and Shxuto to produce and write a hip-hop song for the group to drum to. Before recording the video, Mad Beatz worked on creating the drumline sections to the song.
“We learned the song in one week, just the beat to go with it. We kind of worked it out, so the kids had some input there. Then, just rehearsed it and recorded it,” Mell said.
‘I’m glad to say this! I’m vaccinated!’
The “GET VAXX’D!!” music video features Domino and Shxuto and the drummers of Mad Beatz performing on American Street in Kensington.
“Had fears but knew I had to face ‘em. But now I’m here cuz I’m vaccinated!” raps Domino and Shxuto in the video. “ … I’m vaccinated! I’m glad to say this! I’m vaccinated! I’m glad we made it!”
Kion Lewis, the Mad Beatz drummer who plays the “quad drums” in the video, graduated from high school in 2019 and is now a music educator at local high schools. Lewis said getting vaccinated is a step in getting educational youth programs back to where they once were before the pandemic.
“Do it for the kids,” he added, referring to getting vaccinated. “My aunt’s a nurse, and she said she sees countless kids who come in with COVID-19, and some have almost died just because people don’t want to get their kids vaccinated because they don’t believe in vaccines.”
Similarly, Alyssa Aponte, a high school sophomore and bass drum player for Mad Beatz featured in the video, got the COVID-19 vaccine to protect the children in her household.
Another barrier to vaccinations, Mell said, is misinformation, meaning false or misleading information.
“There’s so much misinformation out there that it’s really taking people who would otherwise get [vaccinated], and making them feel like they shouldn’t,” Mell added.
What’s next for Mad Beatz?
This past summer, the drumline group performed at several different events. On Sept. 23, they played at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware with Philly icon Mr. Y Not, also known as “Philly Elmo.” Moving forward, Mell said Mad Beatz will continue to develop the next generation of music educators in the city.
“With our group, professionalism is at the forefront,” Mell added. “When we come together, everybody can see themselves [as a professional musician or teacher] because of the alumni that have come before them that are now teachers and performers, making money and having a good life as a result of taking this seriously.”
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