Topeka students record albums

Grant money funds music project

— When two albums featuring student hip-hop and R&B; performers hit the halls of Highland Park High School in late spring, E.J. Drake wants the artists to be proud of their art.

The school paraprofessional, who not long ago attended Highland Park himself, wants to hear tight albums, not half-hearted attempts at stardom.

"I want the kids to be proud of what they've done," said Drake, who graduated from Highland Park four years ago.

The 14 students who make beats, rap and sing have poured more than talent into the after-school program that aims to teach them about the music industry. They have learned about hard work.

"Most of them, they talk about they want to be a rapper or a singer, but they don't know what it takes," Drake said.

They learn it takes hours of after-school writing, fine-tuning, recording and editing their music to produce a CD they will be proud of.

The albums follow different formats. The hip-hop album will feature 15 songs written and performed by the group The Franchise, Drake said. The R&B; album is a compilation of seven students performing 15 solos and duets. The original songs on that album are connected by a theme of a teenage couple who meet, fall in love and experience a painful breakup.

Christopher Collins, a freshman, said he approached the recording of his R&B; songs "Tell Me Why" and "It's Not a Game" as if he were a professional singer. He hopes someday he will be.

Despite his zeal for the R&B; album, which is yet to be named, he plans to attend law school so that he can always write songs and sing, even if it doesn't pay.

For now, Collins spends about three hours after school once a week fine-tuning his songs. He chose to re-record his solo and his duet with freshman Alexandria Fisher, because he said the first tries weren't good enough to represent him to the world.

The man behind the beats on both albums is Justin Ryckert, a senior.

Ryckert said he spends several hours in the studio every day after school mixing beats for the album. But his career plans include completing his vocational drafting program at Kaw Area Technical School and attending architecture school at Kansas State University.

Bonnie Walker, extended day program facilitator for Highland Park, said the high school was among five schools in Topeka Unified School District 501 to receive a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant three years ago.

The grant funds the music program, as well as after-school costume-making, ceramics, tutoring and homework assistance, and a credit recovery program for students behind in their classes.

"That music program provides kids who would never, ever have the opportunity to record their own CD to have a creative outlet," Walker said.

A quarter of students at Highland Park took part in a 21st Century grant program last year. "It's a great program," Walker said. "It keeps kids off the streets."

The 21st Century grant paid for all the recording equipment, which Drake said is kept locked in a closet during the day and set up in soundproof practice rooms or music classrooms after school.

Students have been working on writing songs and recording the albums since they returned from winter break, Drake said. He expects to sell the completed albums at the high school, at a cost of $7 to Highland Park students and $10 to everyone else.

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