“Just doing what I had wished another person had done for me when I was that age.”
That’s what fuels New England hip hop and rap artist “GeNreal,” otherwise known as Nicholas Trahan, to make an impact on rural youth. For him, success has always been about mindset. And if there’s one thing he knows from his own experiences, it’s that rural youth struggle to maintain a happy, healthy mindset.
In fact, rural youth are more likely to face social, economic, as well as emotional challenges; a result of the constraints, isolation and limitations of rural areas. Over half of the young people in Nicholas’ region of VT/NH report that they do not feel they matter to their community, according to a recent Youth Behavioral Study. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five young people in rural counties have one or more mental, emotional or behavioral disorders and the highest rates and greatest rate increases of youth suicide in rural counties as well. Finally, additional studies show that the prevalence of drug use among rural-dwelling youth equals or has surpassed that of urban youth.
But, as Nicholas knows well, music is a particularly effective tool for change within marginalized and isolated youth communities because it combines community engagement with a creative outlet, and occupies otherwise idle time; music in these circumstances can improve overall well-being, as well as serve as an antidote to unhealthy behavior, disrespect, and disempowerment.
Teens are known to listen to an average of 6.8 hours of music per day; on an emotional level, teenagers use music as their “social glue” and as a bridge for building acceptance and tolerance for people of different ages and cultural backgrounds.
So GeNreal is an artist with a mission: to connect at-risk teens with a variety of self-directed creative projects that enhance their skills, self-confidence and connect them in meaningful ways to their community, through free open studio workshops.
“My main goal is to just motivate kids out here, who are creative and want to do productive things with their time and especially, you know, post COVID-era,” he says.
And with his mindset matching his mission, that’s exactly what he’s accomplishing with “C.R.E.A.T.E,” or Connecting Rural Entertainment Art Technology, and Education; a rural youth development project.
As part of Music to Life’s Activist Musician Accelerator, GeNreal has connected with mentors and instructors to help shape his project, develop grant proposals, understand how to evaluate his work and identify potential partners. In addition to collaborating with local groups like North Country Community Radio and North Country Health Consortium, GeNreal has teamed up with the Woburn Public Library to offer three online live beatmaking sessions on Zoom. Through these “how to” workshops, GeNreal explores the world of digital music production.
And although they’re only an hour long, he manages to cover quite a bit: free software for sound editing, equipment for a home studio and even creating artwork for your first CD. He also gives students access to a Google Drive with samples, drum sounds and links to free online resources to support their creative journeys.
As free introductory classes, all delivered virtually, GeNreal’s beatmaking sessions overcome two common obstacles for rural youth. He explains, “A big reason why kids don’t do extracurricular things or they don’t do anything outside of school is—is because of the cost and the lack of transportation.
That’s why offering C.R.E.A.T.E is about more than just his own passion for music and music-making. It’s also about “showing kids that—just like any other career path or interest, that there are achievable, learnable goals—and that if you take these goals and use your time productively, then you can learn how to do that.”
After landing on the viral 2016 mixtape “Watch the Stove,” GeNreal began his journey of working in almost every facet of the music industry. He’s worked with artists such as Toki Wright, I Self Divine and more; and as an international performing artist and producer, GeNreal has a lot of knowledge to share.
But perhaps most importantly, the knowledge he has to offer isn’t limited to technical assistance or production tips. It’s about empathy, empowerment and education. “The overarching theme is just being able to encourage kids to follow their dream and do whatever they want to do,” he says.
Music to Life’s Accelerator empowers activist-musicians like GeNreal with opportunities for professional development while also amplifying their impact through collaboration and community involvement.
GeNreal is set to perform at Music to Life’s next virtual house concert on October 25. Grab your seats here!