Local rap crew headlines Youth Benefit Music Fest
By Rusty Pate
Positivity is a commodity in short supply in the modern world. It seems at every turn, be it the nightly news, social media or daily conversations, the grand societal machine oils itself with strife and suffering. Even entertainment seems less and less about uplift or escapism and more and more about violence and sadness.
Yet, artists and individuals who fight against this tide do exist. Sometimes, these beacons of hope rise from the most hopeless of situations.
“I grew up on the south side of the tracks in Middletown, not much to look up to growing up besides trouble,” local rapper Jamelle Johnson said.
Johnson’s latest project is DiVerse Records. DiVerse Crew represents the realization of the passion for music Johnson first honed performing at college house parties. The project came about when some neighborhood kids learned of Johnson’s home studio and experience in the music industry. One of those kids was Cameron Campbell.
“I heard about it in the neighborhood and wasn’t quite sure about it,” Campbell said. “Once I met Jamelle and [we] started making music together, it really inspired me to do a lot more. I was in the eighth grade and I wasn’t doing too good. I was kind of running around doing whatever I wanted to. After I met him, I came out of eighth grade with almost a 4.0 grade point average.”
Johnson said when he was approached about potentially recording kids like Campbell and fellow DiVerse Crew member Ryan Martin, he had some stipulations.
“I told them if they’re really serious about this, they need to go home and talk to their parents,” Johnson said. “They had to sit there and do their homework every day in my living room before they recorded anything.”
That spirit perhaps best sums up what Johnson and crew are doing. Sure, the music is the glue binding the whole thing together, but a bigger concept is at play.
DiVerse Records represents a clarion call for kids to rise above whatever obstacles lie in front of them. Johnson said he shows kids his college diploma and tries to be a role model – someone they can look up to, who came from the same place and a similar situation they come from.
It’s led him not only to help those who seek him out, but to be active in the larger community. The Youth Benefit Music Fest puts that on full display.
The daylong event will take place on Saturday, June 14 at Hook Field Airport in Middletown’s Smith Park. It will feature a DJ spinning family-friendly music in the afternoon and various booths promoting not only community activism, but also the military, a sky diving team and many more.
Admission is free for anyone 12 and under, with a $10 cover for everyone else.
DiVerse Crew also recently performed at Cincinnati Pride, a cause close to the group’s heart. Campbell’s mother Krystal has recently been helping the group with bookings and been a big supporter of what the crew is doing.
Johnson said it is important for kids to know there is a path and place for them in the world. They need an outlet to channel frustration, and tapping into their creative side offers a real option.
“If a kid holds something in for so long, [they’re] going to explode like a grenade,” Johnson said. “If you have an outlet like music, acting, being a comedian, art, drawing or poetry, you can write anything. You can express yourself. That’s why I love music. Music is universal.”
Johnson credits his single mother, Mary Jo Johnson as his source for the desire to be a positive force in people’s lives. He said she sacrificed and worked hard to give him all she could. Above all, she instilled in him a self-reliance and belief he not only deserved good things in his life, but he has the ability to make good things happen.
It is a core belief that has less to do with dollar signs and more to do with common sense.
“It’s not about the money,” Johnson said. “It’s about getting out here, spreading the message that you can do something in your life – don’t let nobody tell you otherwise. On this label, we don’t believe in ‘can’t’ and we don’t believe in ‘no.’ I just want these kids to know that people still care about them, no matter what situation they’re in or wherever they’re at. They’re not alone.”
The Youth Benefit Music Fest will take place Saturday, June 14 at Smith Park’s Hooks Field Airport, 1707 Run Way in Middletown. Admission is $10 for all; Ages 12 and under are free. For more information, please visit facebook.com/DiVerseRecordsLLC.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.