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, Berkleemusic.com.

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 Berkleemusic.com 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."