New Generation Ready to Take Back the Music

By 
Allen Bush
April 13, 2008
Jennifer "Nesi" Chianesi
Justin "Jae Guttah" McGibbon
Nyles "Witness" Houston

Essence and Berklee today revealed the five outstanding teens that are the winners in the third Take Back the Music Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest. Each will receive Berklee summer or online scholarships, empowering them to take their talent to new heights.

Grand Prize Winners:

Artist: Jennifer "Nesi" Chianesi
Song: "Shake Up"
Age: 18
Hometown: Cranston, RI

An 18-year-old singer and rapper from Rhode Island, Jennifer has already written over a hundred original songs with catchy and motivational lyrics. Moved by artists like TLC and Mary J. Blige, she is "ready to change the world with lyrical miracles."

Artist: Justin "Jae Guttah" McGibbon
Song: "Keep Goin"
Age: 18
Hometown: Breinigsville, PA

"I excel in lyrically describing life's unavoidable issues," says this 18-year-old living in Pennsylvania. "Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but always real." He's been a serious music fan since as far back as he can remember.

Second Place Winner:

Artist: Nyles "Witness" Houston
Song: "The Gamble"
Age: 17
Hometown: Brockton, MA

The son of two pastors, Nyles, 17, specializes in gospel rap. Born and raised in Massachusetts, he has performed at churches and events all over the country. "I want to convey a message of hope," he says. "Not just talk about myself or material pursuits."

Runners-up:

Artist: Bryan "Fidelity" Hill
Song: "Verbal Medicine"
Age: 18
Hometown: Alfred, ME

Artist: Nicholas "Phantom" Garcia
Song: "Feel It"
Age: 19
Hometown: Lodi, NJ

Their songs of varying themes and arrangements can be heard at Essence.com/takebackthemusic and Berklee.edu.

The two grand-prize winners will receive full scholarships-tuition and room and board-to the Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program in Boston. The second place winner will receive a tuition-only scholarship to the summer program. The runners-up will each receive one course of their choice at Berkleemusic.com, Berklee's online extension school.

Additionally, Chianesi, McGibbon, and Houston are invited by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to perform at the 2008 Peace Hip-Hop Festival at Boston's City Hall Plaza, August 2.

"I'm so excited," said grand prize winner Jennifer Chianesi. "There aren't many females who are really successful doing hip-hop right now, so it feels good to be noticed for doing it. I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about the music industry."

"Essence is proud to once again partner with Berklee College of Music," said Angela Burt-Murray, editor-in-chief of Essence. "The contest not only maintains the spirit of Essence's Take Back the Music campaign, but it also continues to provide a unique platform for a new generation of talent that is poised to take hip-hop to new levels."

The winners were chosen from more than 40 submissions by songwriters between the ages of 15 - 19 from all over the United States. In a first round of judging, a group of Berklee students and Essence employees held listening sessions in Boston and New York and chose 10 finalists.

The five winners were selected by a panel of hip-hop celebrity judges-Yo-Yo, Pete Rock, and Roxanne Shante-and Berklee scholars-professors Prince Charles Alexander (music production and engineering); Pat Pattison (songwriting),Mike Hamilton (music production, Berkleemusic.com), and Da'Raya Wilson (student, 2006 contest winner). The judges gave highest marks to songwriters with clever, innovative lyrics that conveyed a positive message, while achieving excellent melody and composition.

The contest was developed as an extension of Essence's Take Back the Music Campaign, which promotes balance in mainstream hip-hop's messages. Berklee became involved to offer the winning songwriters educational opportunities that will help them take their talent to the next level.

Press Representatives:

Allen Bush
Office of Public Information, Berklee College of Music
617 747-2658
abush@berklee.edu

Sheila Harris
Essence
212 522-1089

Ra'Chelle Rogers
Essence
212 522-2724

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