St. Peter Claver students record rap song for change

In a studio wired for sound at the High School for the Recording Arts, a pair of 8th graders have traveled from their nearby Catholic school to lay down a rap with a message.

"Stop the fighting and the gun violence," Zionna expressively calls into the hot microphone.

Zionna and her friend Laila are a songwriting duo from St. Peter Claver Catholic School in the heart of St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood. Through a special program in their school called "Without Walls" they’ve been working with Walker West Music Academy to create their own musical expressions. Walker West is a well-established music school rooted in African American traditions.

"Hip hop history in the arts, that’s my program," said Chadwick "Niles" Phillips, Walker’s artist in residence for the Without Walls program. He’s been working with Laila and Zionna to help them find their voice and put it to music.

"On the one side, they finish their song, but on the other side, this is an experience they can keep for the rest of their lives," explained Phillips.

These St. Peter Claver scholars have been crafting their works, and rehearsing their on-microphone performance. For both, it’s their first time.

"Our song is called, ‘We’re too old,’" explained Laila. "It’s about people maturing and how people act nowadays."

Part of their lyrics hold adults accountable: All we should give is respect, but all we know is disrespect.

"I write my song, I think of 2020, like George Floyd. And I think about the riots and stuff like that," Laila reflected on the songwriting process. "And I think they should listen to this and that they are too grown to be acting like this and with gun violence. And I just feel like our song is for that."

For all the work they put into the writing, their time in the recording studio lasted only an hour. But long enough to make a deep impression on the process and the art form.

"I want people to be able to just listen to the song and think like, yeah, like I need to change my ways and I need to just be who I am deep down," said Zionna.

For Phillips, who has spent a lifetime in the performing arts as a performer, producer and teacher, said what he saw in these teenagers impressed him.

"It shows me that St. Peter Claver has amazing students," he said as his face beamed about the work Laila and Zionna put into their musical creation. "For them to represent the school in the highest form and fashion, it makes all of us proud because they’re carrying on tradition."

The song "We’re too old" along with the songs many of their classmates have created will be posted to SoundCloud and to the St. Peter Claver Catholic School’s YouTube page