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Pittsburgh hip-hop artist and music mentor, Shad Ali, takes on role of head instructor at CMU’s Arts Greenhouse

It’s a fusion of two things he loves: working with kids and making music


Arts Greenhouse — Carnegie Mellon University’s hip-hop-based arts-education program for Pittsburgh-area teens — recently welcomed hip-hop artist Shad Ali as the new head instructor. Taking over for former head instructor Paul Crocker, who left to pursue other ventures, Ali is excited to be a part of this program. It’s a fusion of two things he loves: working with kids as a teaching artist/mentor and making music. He says that being in this position will allow him to “help artists and mold some great people as well.”

Arts Greenhouse currently has a handful of students, ranging from 14 to 18 years of age, who attend the Saturday-afternoon sessions. During those sessions, students focus on a specific topic or lesson, which often involves examining music in a historical context, and investigating media and its influences. Students also work on projects involving writing lyrics, music production and engineering.

Ali says that they also frequently talk about life in general, which gives him a chance to impart his own knowledge and provide perspective. Sometimes CMU faculty members specializing in areas like poetry or Afro-American history provide the lessons for the day.

Although Ali and the other staff members offer students the freedom to stretch the boundaries of their creativity when it comes to writing music, they do provide guidance when necessary. For example, they enforce a no-swearing policy and encourage a positive approach to self-expression.

Moving forward, Ali’s vision for the program includes broadening the community’s awareness of the students’ talents, and collaborating with other hip-hop-based youth programs such as 1Hood and the Lighthouse Project. He also wants to open his own music network to the students with the hope that they can take their music even further. Ali feels that the program provides a safe environment, while helping to keep kids on a positive path. “It’s a cool opportunity to see kids in a position I was once in, but didn’t have the people or spaces where I could receive feedback and constructive criticism,” he says. “This is an opportunity to be what I needed someone to be [for me] at a certain point in time.”

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An earlier version of this story stated that Benjy Grinberg of Rostrum Records recently spoke at Ali's class. Grinberg has not attended the class, though he has spoken with Ali about assisting in some fashion at a later date.

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