Room 3102 at Hoover High School on Monday afternoon was more than just a classroom, it was a club. At the turntables was the school’s director of discipline, Kevin Miramontes, showing his students the art of record scratching. His fingers traced a dizzying pattern as Miramontes invented rhythm after rhythm, never taking his eyes off the record or the turntable’s controls.
This was the scene for Hoover High School’s newest club, Spin Cycle. The club meets every Monday during lunch in Miramontes’ classroom, dubbed the “Opportunity Room.”
The club offers students the chance to learn about hip-hop, its roots and its influence on society, and not the “watered-down” version portrayed by the media.
“We kind of want to bring back true essence of what hip-hop was when it first started,” said Miramontes, who has been spinning records as a deejay for 15 years. “Fundamentally, hip-hop is a music that’s meant to bring together the community so they can learn to battle with raps, or deejaying, or through their murals — [hip-hop is] competing through self-expression.”
Ara “Mr. M” Mgrdichian, violence prevention specialist and co-director of Hoover’s Student Resource Center, said Spin Cycle offers students an opportunity to focus their skills, allowing them to do something productive. Mgrdichian and his fellow staff members, he said, share a common desire to teach kids how to get involved in music and the arts, and to provide a sort of “self discovery,” he said.
“If you’re good at tagging — if you’re good at something — you probably could be good at a lot of things,” Mgrdichian said. “The discipline and the aptitude, that’s all there. This is what we believe, even when we’re coming down on them for stuff.”
The hip-hop club was conceived from conversations between Mgrdichian and his co-worker, violence prevention specialist Alex Garcia.
“Everybody has it,” said Mgrdichian, referring to the many sub-genres and regional scenes of hip-hop. “The Armenians have it, the Spanish have it. Everybody has it because it speaks to something deep within the soul.”
During his early days as a deejay, Miramontes felt like quitting several times. But he soon realized that the more he stuck to his craft, the more he improved. Miramontes said he hoped that the new club would teach the same lesson to his students and serve as a confidence builder for those starting out.
“At some point, you can do something that you can be proud of that you can show off,” Miramontes said.
And while learning to scratch and rap can bring fame and fortune to the exceptional, Miramontes and Mgrdichian said they hope their students learn that fame and fortune do not come easy. Society “creates a false narrative,” Mgrdichian said, that makes it seem as though artists and musicians become celebrities overnight.
“When I was growing up, a lot of girls admired Jennifer Lopez, and a lot kids think that she automatically just showed up as this pop star, not understanding that before that she was a backup dancer, she took acting classes and dancing classes,” Miramontes said. “It’s a funny example, but there was a long process that she did before she became the person that she is today.”
The same can be said for late rapper Tupac Shakur, Miramontes said, who was a backup dancer for Digital Underground, and before that was a roadie.
“Hip-hop is very commercialized in their immediate media,” Miramontes said. “They’re constantly bombarded with these songs. They may like the beat, but they’re unaware of these lyrics that are pumped into their heads that everything has to be about bling, or fast cars, or alcohol or drugs, when really hip-hop started as something against all that.”
STUDENTS TALK BACK
The News-Press visited Kevin Miramontes’ Hoover High School classroom Monday afternoon. The school is the site of a new hip-hop club, whose goal is to teach students everything from hip-hop’s history to techniques used in scratching. We asked: “Why did you decide to join the Hoover High hip-hop club?”
“I like hip-hop. It’s my theme for life. I love everything about hip-hop.”
MACIAH DERUSO, 16
“It’s interesting to learn about different music, and I was raised with different types of music.”
ZURI WILLIAMS, 15
“I listen to hip-hop all the time; it fits my lifestyle.”
KIRRAH PERKINS, 16
“I like scratching. I like rap. I like hip-hop and the history of it.”
C.J. YEKTAZARIAN, 18