Verses Project empowers Detroit youth

Free program offered by MSU Community Music School - Detroit teaches music and more to Detroit kids.

Verses student Anjel Mantel with the shoes Eminem designed that are on display at the Community Music School - Detroit. Pictured next to the headline above is Anjel's journal/song about a slave experience.
Award-winning Spoken Word artist Will “The Poet” Langford, a Fulbright Scholar and MSU graduate, coaches students in creative writing and English Language Arts assignments in every session of Verses.
Pianist and vocalist Suai Kee, a former Motown recording artist, is a Verses instructor. Here she's with King Bethel of Highland Park (left) and Micah Lee-Morris of Detroit (right) after a "Listening Party," an end-of-camp event showcasing student songs.


The Verses Project offered by the MSU Community Music School-Detroit lets kids who want to make beats learn from some of Detroit’s leading professional musicians, recording artists and engineers, and it’s all free.

Thanks to the Marshall Mathers Foundation, funded by the artist known as Eminem, in collaboration with Detroit’s iconic clothing company Carhartt, students in the Verses program learn the art of songwriting, composing, music-making, performing, mixing and recording. They work across diverse popular musical styles including hip hop, rap, R&B and pop.

Fifteen-year-old Anjel Mantel, a student at Cass Technical High School, has attended Verses since 2016. She is one of nearly 200 Detroit kids between the ages of 10 and 16 who have participated in Verses since the year-round program began in 2015, which includes fall and spring semesters and two free summer camps.

“I actually have a structured plan now for my musical future, thanks to the inspiration from Verses and that fact that Eminem believes in us,” Anjel said.

Students like Anjel are given access to professional-level mixing and editing software such as Logic, Ableton and ProTools through an on-site recording studio as well as master classes on topics like copyright basics, record labels and types of deals, how to monetize social media, and post-production. Students work in creative teams or on solo projects, and by the end of each semester or camp they have a professional recording for their portfolio. Their songs are posted on the MSU Community Music School-Detroit’s SoundCloud account, and listening parties are held to unveil the student’s hard work to families and friends.

Enrolling in Verses comes with a unique perk. Students get to work with faculty that include award-winning Spoken Word artist Will “The Poet” Langford, a Fulbright Scholar and graduate of Michigan State University, international Detroit techno artist Jon Dixon, former Motown recording artist and pianist/vocalist Suai Kee, and other in-demand professionals with impressive music business resumes.

While music and technology may be the initial attraction for kids coming to Verses, an important component of the program is building literacy skills. Verses students take a cue from Eminem, said to be among the top five artists in the music industry with the largest vocabularies.

In Verses, kids are challenged to learn the power of language and practice it as part of their craft. Langford, the lead language arts instructor at Community Music School-Detroit, coaches students in creative writing and English Language Arts assignments as part of every session of Verses.

“I encourage students to speak their truth, to narrate their lived experiences with poise and power,” Langford said. “I design coursework for my Verses students that unpacks the traditional literary canon. We read Shakespeare, Big Sean, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Nas in equal measure.”

While the sonnets of Shakespeare may not always connect with today’s youth in a lesson on iambic pentameter, Langford shows kids how Eminem’s famous rap “Lose Yourself” uses the same structural technique in a culturally relevant way.

“As a result, Verses students have found success in a number of different areas,” Langford said. “More importantly, I watch our students’ confidence as orators and world citizens grow in their day-to-day lives. I hope to continue to inspire our students to create art that is rooted firmly in positive sense of self.”

There is room to add more students to the program, and kids can enroll nearly any time. Participation in summer camps is also an option, but register early because they fill up fast. To apply, students should send a short sample of their words or music to cmsd@msu.edu or call (313) 578-9716. Visit www.cms.msu.edu/detroit for more information.

Children enrolled in the Verses program's summer camp at the MSU Community Music School - Detroit are among the 200 students who have received free, professional music instruction and more since the program began in 2015.

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