Young Emcee

Kids don't listen to what teacher's putting down? Gabe Moskoff, a.k.a. DJ Trackstar, wants to reach them through rap.

You're not wack, Pa, but you gotta learn

You don't burn, you don't stop

Even if you mess up, you keep goin', you keep flowin'

Lyfestile: “When there’s somebody that young looking at 
what you're doing, you want to present it the right way.”
Jennifer Silverberg
Lyfestile: “When there’s somebody that young looking at what you're doing, you want to present it the right way.”
Look out, Neptunes: Charles Jacobs makes some of the 
hottest beats around.
Jennifer Silverberg
Look out, Neptunes: Charles Jacobs makes some of the hottest beats around.

Don't worry, my little young 'un from St. Louis

In a couple months you'll be able to do this

I'm'a show you how to do this right, how to do this night

Lyfestile and I'm'a treat you right

But I like the way you do it, yo, you got the hip-hop

But one thing to remember my man: You just don't stop

"Lyfestile is one of the minds I admire most," says Moskoff. "He's a fairly radical dude as far as race and social stuff. But he doesn't just say, 'I read this somewhere, so I'm gonna say it aloud.' He's got a lot of perspectives that I really respect."

A fixture on the local scene since the mid-'90s, Lyfestile performs with two crews, Plan B and Altered St8s of Consciousness, and he's well-versed in all aspects of hip-hop culture. Moskoff met Lyfestile at the Science, the legendary, now-defunct weekly hip-hop night at Blueberry Hill that celebrated each of hip-hop's "Four Elements": the emcees, the DJs, the b-boys and -girls, and the graffiti artists.

"The more you learn about [hip-hop], the more you'll love it," Lyfestile says. "I can guarantee you that. It's not just something like, 'Man, I can't play basketball; maybe I should rap.' There's so much more to it than that."

Jeff Chang agrees. "Hip-hop makes things meaningful, relevant and urgent. We can lead [kids] through hip-hop as a way to look at issues of race and gender, poverty and politics."

Chang believes hip-hop can be a far more compelling educational tool than a textbook. "The young folks who are organizing these types of programs are working in an environment in which after-school programs have been wiped out," he says. "The main way the government interacts with young people is to arrest them; it's like the kids have to push a massive rock uphill. These programs add speed and torque to that push."

The enthusiasm the kids bring to CRA is evident. And enthusiasm, coupled with Moskoff's dedication, has kept the program afloat for the past six months.

Jaron Jackson-Craig (a.k.a. "Yung JJ") began actively seeking the advice of St. Louis hip-hoppers more than two years ago, when he first posted on the message board of local label F5 Records ( Now seventeen, JJ is the youngest participant in the online discussions — a fact that's not lost on his mentor.

"JJ [posts] on there and talks about our music; he communicates with a lot of the artists," Lyfestile says. "And it keeps you in check, knowing there's somebody that young who's looking at what you're doing. You want to present it the right way."

When JJ visits Lyfestile's Hanley Hills home on Saturday afternoons, the first thing that's usually on his mind is making beats. As a student in Ladue Horton Watkins High School's invitation-only Music Technology course, JJ works with computer programs like Garage Band and FruityLoops.

"I hate going to Ladue," JJ says, "but I'm grateful for this class. Some people don't like Garage Band because they can't do enough original stuff with it. But it's about the talent, not the equipment."

There are no computers in Lyfestile's large, unfinished basement. Instead there are two Technics turntables, a mixer, a giant MPC 2000 XL sampler and records stacked cartoonishly high. Lyfestile does all of his sampling from vinyl, and he owns everything from Prince to Three Dog Night to Alice Cooper.

"Some cats just have an iPod with turntables connected, so they don't have to carry [record] crates any more," the rapper says with a shrug. "But that takes away from the tradition."

He cranks up a track JJ has created, and a haunting minor-key piano chord progression fills the basement. Lyfestile asks JJ where he found the sample and looks pleased but not completely surprised when JJ says he composed it himself.

"JJ has so many things going on with his music that you could make a whole new song out of this [track]," Lyfestile says. "We could make three sequences out of this first sequence. I can work with the computer programs, but JJ's like Beethoven."

Lyfestile doesn't mind showing JJ some old-school production tricks. But he emphasizes his mentoring role above all else. He worries that young rappers from St. Louis are too easily seduced by stories about Nelly and Chingy — two ordinary kids from the block who shot to stardom in what seemed like record time. He wants JJ and the other CRA students to understand the often-harsh realities of the music industry.

"When you're in the industry, you're definitely playing a game," Lyfestile says. "It's not gonna be about how dope you are; it's gonna be, 'Man, am I impressing these older white dudes in suits?' This is why I encourage people to develop [other] careers. Because nobody's gonna be the man forever."

Charles Jacobs makes more hot beats than some producers twice his age. But while he's preternaturally deft with production software, he wants to learn more about hip-hop culture and songwriting.

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