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.

Despite its tough-sounding name — who wouldn't want to be "straight outta Defiance"? — Myles Jacquez's hometown is a sleepy, bucolic place. Known for its Pioneer Days festival and picturesque bike trails, Defiance is to St. Louis what most any rural town is to its big-city sibling: quieter, slower-paced, less racially diverse. But ever since he was nine years old and heard Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP ("an edited copy," he clarifies), Myles has been a dedicated hip-hop head. He writes new verses to go with popular beats. He makes new beats to match popular verses. Sometimes he surprises his fellow CRA students by creating stellar mash-ups — like when he matched a Ludacris track to a Charles Jacobs beat.

"I see hip-hop playing many roles in my future, from providing a hobby to providing a career," says Myles, who received his first turntables four years ago and makes frequent trips into St. Louis to buy vinyl. "It's my thing. It sort of defines who I am."

And you don't stop: Gabe Moskoff devotes at least twenty 
hours each week to the Center for Recording Arts.
Jennifer Silverberg
And you don't stop: Gabe Moskoff devotes at least twenty hours each week to the Center for Recording Arts.
Straight outta Defiance: Myles Jacquez
Jennifer Silverberg
Straight outta Defiance: Myles Jacquez

These days Myles' taste runs more toward the smart, tough rap of Virginia duo Clipse than toward, say, the booty rap of Yung Joc.

"Myles is going through the same listening patterns that I did," Moskoff says. "Myles is me ten years ago, different atmosphere." He pauses to consider. "Sometimes I think it might be better if I spent all my time with the Myleses of the world, explaining to them, 'All right, you're white, can't help that. And this is your history and your culture. This is what was perpetuated, whether you like it or not, and this is what you can do to accept that and move past it.'"

Skin color might be the most obvious similarity between Moskoff and Myles, but the fifteen-year-old also shares his mentor's sense of altruism. When Moskoff asks the CRA kids what they'd like to do with hip-hop, Myles doesn't miss a beat before saying: "I'd like to do something with the music that helps somebody out, gets them out of a bad situation. That would be tight."

That could have been Gabe Moskoff ten years ago, too.

Says the Hip-Hop Congress' Aaron Berkowitz: "CRA is reaching much further than what people know. The kids are coming from out of the woodwork, not just from the inner city but from the suburbs. These are kids who are disenchanted with big money and big business. CRA is so down-to-earth, so not about money and greed. Gabe is exposing people to the culture. It seems like success is only a matter of time."

In the world of grassroots activism, "success" isn't always easy to define. But a big first step would be financial security. Moskoff hasn't written any grant proposals. He hasn't found a benefactor. But if he had to explain CRA, he might sum it up as he does on a rainy afternoon during a quick lunch break downtown:

"What this program is about is me seeing artists and saying, if they had a program like this, they wouldn't have come out and fucked up the first three opportunities they had just because no one taught them stuff that they can't know on their own, things that only experience teaches you. I didn't get serious about DJing until I was 21. I would have killed to have someone teach me to DJ when I was thirteen."

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