Berklee and Essence Partner in Hip-Hop Contest

  Two-time grand-prize winner Justin "Jae Guttah" McGibbon performing at Boston's 2007 Peace Hip-Hop Festival
  Phil Farnsworth

Five teen musicians were named the winners in the third Take Back the Music Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest sponsored by Essence magazine and Berklee. The grand-prize winners Jennifer "Nesi" Chianesi of Cranston, RI, and Justin "Jae Guttah" McGibbon of Breinigsville, PA, received full scholarships (covering tuition, room, and board) to attend Berklee's 2008 Five-Week Summer Performance Program in Boston. The second-place winner, Nyles "Witness" Houston of Brockton, MA, received a tuition-only scholarship to the summer program. Three runners-up received a scholarship to take a course of their choice at Berklee's online extension school,

Additionally, Chianesi, McGibbon, and Houston have been invited by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to perform at the 2008 Peace Hip-Hop Festival at Boston's City Hall Plaza, on 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 this. I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about the music industry."

The winners were chosen from submissions of songwriters between the ages of 15 and 19 from all over the United States. In a first round of judging, a group of Berklee students and Essence staff held listening sessions in Boston and New York to choose 10 finalists.

The five winners were selected from the group of finalists by a judging panel comprising hip-hop celebrities Yo-Yo, Pete Rock, and Roxanne Shanté; Berklee MP&E Department Professor Prince Charles Alexander, Songwriting Department Professor Pat Pattison, and Music Production faculty member Mike Hamilton; and Berklee student Da'Raya Wilson, who was a 2006 contest winner. The judges gave highest marks to songwriters whose pieces featured clever, innovative lyrics and that conveyed a positive message as well as excellent melody and composition.

The contest was developed as an extension of the Essence Take Back the Music Campaign, which promotes balance in mainstream hip-hop's messages. Berklee became involved to offer the winning songwriters educational opportunities to further develop their talents.

Angela Burt-Murray, the editor in chief of Essence, says, "The contest not only maintains the spirit of Essence's Take Back the Music campaign, but continues to provide a unique platform for a new generation of talent that is poised to take hip-hop to new levels."