VIDEO: Hip-Hop Songwriting Winners Perform at Festival

Allen Bush
July 22, 2008
Justin McGibbon (center), on stage at the 2007 Peace Hip-Hop Festival, will make his second appearance at this year's event.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Three teen songwriters studying this summer on scholarship in Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program have been invited to perform at an annual outdoor hip-hop festival that last year drew 20,000 fans. Justin "Jae Guttah" McGibbon, Jennifer "Nesi" Chianesi, and Nyles "Witness" Houston, winners of the Essence magazine and Berklee College of Music 2008 Take Back the Music Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest, will appear at the fifth-annual Peace Hip-Hop Festival, produced by the Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events, on Saturday, August 2, on Boston's City Hall Plaza, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Watch the winners perform at the festival and talk about the contest.

Watch more Berklee video.

Hip-hop legends EPMD, Das EFX, and Chubb Rock will headline the festival. Other performers include Acrobatik, Status Quo, Esoteric, and dance troupe Static Noyze. Presentations will be made to the three winners by Cynthia Gordy, Essence magazine news editor, and Prince Charles Alexander, a Berklee music production and engineering professor and a judge in the contest.

McGibbon, 18, from Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, won for his song "Keep Goin'." Chianesi, 18, is from Cranston, Rhode Island, and her song is "Shake Up." Both are grand prize winners with tuition and housing covered by their scholarships. Houston, 17, from Brockton, Massachusetts, wrote "The Gamble," and is the second place winner, with tuition covered by his scholarship. McGibbon and Houston are both previous winners in the contest. Hear the songs at

The three received top honors in the third-annual contest after their songs were chosen from more than 50 submissions by songwriters between the ages of 15 and 19 from all over the United States. 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 got involved to reward teen talent with summer scholarships to a program that will help them take their talents to new levels.

Hip-hop pioneers Yo-Yo, Pete Rock, and Roxanne Shanté, and Berklee scholars Prince Charles Alexander (music production and engineering), Pat Pattison (songwriting), Mike Hamilton (music production,, and Da'Rayia Wilson (student, 2006 contest winner) were the final judges. Winning songs were selected for clever, innovative lyrics that conveyed a positive message, as well as melody and composition.