Even the harshest critics of hip hop, who once said that rap music was a fad that wouldn’t last, must bow to the reality that the inner city cultural phenomenon has gone mainstream.  This weekend at the Kennedy Center the first Words Beats and Life Hip Hop Festival concludes with performances that capture the essence of America’s urban art form.

D.C. rap producer Odissee is part of the Words Beats and Life Hip Hop Festival at the Kennedy Center through Nov. 6. (Courtesy photo)

The festival began with spoken word performances at Bus Boys and Poets restaurant on Nov. 1 and features six days of shows and exhibitions which are a platform for undiscovered talent from Washington, D.C. and around the country.  Live poetry, college forums, a chess tournament, and a concert tribute to the late rap music legend Guru are the just a few events that give hip hop culture a platform spanning eras from Gen X to millennial.

“We wanted to create an event that appeals to everybody,” said Words Beats and Life founder, Mazi Mustafa.  “It’s a chance to reach cats that were alive before hip hop and those who grew up with it as a part of their everyday lives.”

Fourteen years ago, Mustafa and several of his classmates at the University of Maryland founded Words Beats and Life as a volunteer organization that would provide one afterschool program centered around the arts.  The organization’s impact has expanded to eight programs around the District. Their vision of using arts based educational experiences to harness the power of the imagination has reshaped lives and communities.

Words Beats and Life has become an international ambassador for America’s hip hop culture.  It has led an underground export of the music and conventional arts such as painting around the world. Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom – and most recently Pakistan – have been exposed to the cultural lessons taught by this art form.

“None of this was a part of the initial mission,” said Mustafa.  “I wish I had been the visionary leader who saw this coming.”

Mustafa also didn’t envision the Kennedy Center collaborating with Words Beats and Life for a Hip Hop Festival either. The National Theatre of Performing Arts has established itself as a driving force of the industry and the events of this week are an extension of the Words Beats and Life One Mic Festival.  That allowed the Kennedy Center to provide the funding and marketing support to present the event on a stage of like this.

“This festival is the culmination of all the work and partnerships that we have forged over the years,” said Mustafa.  “Eighty five percent of the reason this event coming off is because of the Kennedy Center.”

The weekend’s program features a series of free events highlighted by DJ Premiere’s tribute to the late lyricist Guru, of the group Gang Starr, Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage.  These two hip hop pioneers collaborated on classics such as “Words That I Manifest” and “Hard to Earn” which brought that group to prominence as one of the iconic groups of the 1990’s.  They went on to create “Jazzmattaz,” which infused hip hop lyrics with jazz music and crossed cultural and demographic lines.

Oddisee returns home to D.C. to kickoff the weekend’s live performances Friday at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.  His “Odd Spring” project was the voted as one of the best local mixtapes by {The Washington Post} in 2014.

There are competitive performances in various theatres around the Kennedy Center all weekend.  The Hip Hop Orchestra features musicians from D.C. and Philadelphia while the Bee Boy Jam will be a dance competition featuring local and national dancers.

For more information go to: wblinc.org