Syracuse artist celebrates black history through rap
A Syracuse artist shares the history of his hometown. Our Kat De Maria introduces us to World Be Free and tells us the story of the city's former 15th ward, which he has turned into a song.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- "I think it's important for an artist to tell the story of where he comes from," said World Be Free.
World Be Free has lived nearly his whole life in Syracuse. When he was approached to do a song for Syracuse University's Black History Preservation Project, World, whose real name is Brian Freeland, admits he didn't know a lot about the former 15th ward, which was torn down in the 1960s to make way for Upstate University Hospital, many Syracuse and Onondaga County buildings and other downtown features.
"In knocking that down, we lost housing and jobs and things of that nature, and it caused kind of a shift in the Syracuse economy," World said.
"15th Ward and Beyond" tells the story of black leaders and businesses from the neighborhood. World said he doesn't believe in limiting black history to one designated month. For the people of Syracuse, he calls the song their personal history.
"Being able to tackle and issue like this and do it in a fashion that's cool, that kids can relate to really speaks to the type of artist he is," said Hasan Stephens, educator and hip hop coordinator at Hillbrook Detention Center.
The song was played for young people at Hillbrook as part of education through music.
"Oftentimes when they do learn black history, it's national, international. It's not about areas where they come from. So they don't know there are prominent figures that are related here to Syracuse. So they don't associate themselves with that," Stephens said.
"15th Ward and Beyond" celebrates the past to show what's possible for the future.
"As unpopular as Syracuse may be to the rest of this nation, we too have a very important story to tell. There's a lot of history and there's a lot of beauty and there's a lot to be celebrated and hopefully restored," World said.
"15th Ward and Beyond" is available on World Be Free's web site, worldbefreemusic.com. And you can access the Black History Preservation Project through Syracuse University, ourstories.syr.edu'.