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A Conversation with Rev. Tim Smith

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From his Keystone Church in Hazelwood, Rev. Tim Smith, 47, runs the K.R.U.N.K. (Kreating Realistic Urban New-school Knowledge) Movement through his nonprofit Center of Life. K.R.U.N.K. teaches teens how to write, engineer, perform and market their hip-hop and jazz music -- with a message. Established in 2005, K.R.U.N.K. has 15 student-members, ages 15-17, who are booked for performances and assemblies through 2007, including a tour of England and France. Two K.R.U.N.K. CDs will appear in February.

How did the K.R.U.N.K. Movement start?

We knew that "crunk" sometimes referred to getting high or getting pumped up. So we said, "Why don't we change the first letter?" The K.R.U.N.K. Movement came out of us doing research on the health disparities in students who live in underserved communities. We found a high percentage to be kids involved in pornography, having sex, selling drugs for money, getting involved in violent situations and also experiencing all kinds of abuse. And the kids had no one to talk to.

You created other small businesses first.

We work with the students who are unable to get a summer job. We started Hazelwood Handyman, where we hook up kids with an adult and they go and fix things in people's houses. Then we got into some relationships with Carnegie Mellon University and Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, a photography and digital imaging project. All the while there were students ... that were interested in music -- hip hop and jazz. I'm an old musician from way back: I knew a little bit about the music industry. The students set up the K.R.U.N.K. Movement as a business and as a production company in 2005. In 2006, they were involved in performing and recording and they were building their own studio up on the third floor [of the church].

This is the year they're supposed to be going into schools and rec centers and [public] housing authority facilities. After the performances, they'll do a short workshop, talking to the kids on physical- and mental-health care issues. We're talking about making some dog chains with public health information on it -- something cool.

And some big-name musicians are ready to help K.R.U.N.K. now.

We have Wynton Marsalis, who is asking for the CD, and Terrence Blanchard is going to have his name on the CDs as an adviser. The kids got a chance to play for Wynton over the summer [when Marsalis was in town]. A guy I grew up with, he called me up and said Wynton wanted to hear us play. Wynton was real impressed and gave the group a lot of advice. The [K.R.U.N.K.] drummer we took up there didn't even know it was Wynton; they're used to seeing Wynton in a tie and suit. We went up to play basketball [afterward] and he said, "I thought Wynton was supposed to be there."

How was it using hip hop for your positive message?

The hip-hop CD has titles that have to do with drugs, money, sex, abuse, things like that. It's not rated R -- it's rated probably PG. There's no profanity, but the innuendos are there. We had a few debates on what should stay or go. I had to censor a few things, but I didn't want to do that. This is them talking. The question is, do you want to put out some bubblegum music that kids don't pay attention to, or do you want to put out something hard? They even did a piece on spirituality. This K.R.U.N.K. Movement is not a faith-based project. But it is being done by a faith-based organization.

Does it relate to your own work as a pastor?

Very much so. You need to touch the felt need of a person before you start talking to them about your God. If you really have a sense of what they're going through and that you care for them ... they might ask you why you do what you do.

K.R.U.N.K. promotes "new-school" knowledge, but isn't jazz old school?

They put a song on their CD that said they're not rappers. So I'm like, "What are you?" They said they are poets with a message ... but they're saying they can spit it as hard as any rapper, which they can. Now the ante is being upped. They're going to Northview Heights [public housing], where some of these kids are straight hardcore kids. They've got to put on a show or they'll be booed off. ... They're concerned. I said, "Somebody has to get in the faces of these kids."

Photo: Heather Mull
  • Photo: Heather Mull

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