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Rapper helps underprivileged kids with his mashup of music and philosophy
by Tom Milligan | Photograph by John Eisele
Let’s say you become a star. You’ve gone platinum, your single is all over the radio, your band is all over the country, and you are on microphone A.
If you’re Stephen Brackett, leader of the band Flobots, you and your bandmates use your flourishing music career to help underprivileged kids in your hometown of Denver. You bring music and training to young people, who otherwise wouldn’t have it, through a nonprofit now called Youth on Record.
Brackett, a 2006 philosophy graduate, is better known in the music scene as MC and songwriter Brer Rabbit. He recalled the moment when Flobots signed a major label deal, amid success with the breakout single, “Handlebars.” A record executive joked, “Who’s buying a new car?”
But a new car wasn’t in the plans. “Every one of the original members of Flobots was a product of Denver public schools,” Brackett said. “We were going to pay it forward, to invest in our city. Everybody in the band was like-minded.”
Youth on Record works to empower underserved Colorado youth to achieve their academic, artistic, and personal bests by employing local professional artists as educators in public schools and residential treatment centers. Flobots supported the nonprofit and was central to building its curriculum, boosting Youth on Record into a leading Colorado philanthropy.
Brackett has the energy and thoughtful intensity of an engaged human-rights activist and artist. He began his University studies in computer science, then transferred to philosophy, with a focus on religious studies.
“I would come back with headaches from thinking so much, from challenging every idea I ever had. I could not have chosen a better major,” he said. “It was just wonderful to be truly challenged in what you believe and how you articulate it.”
Also at CSU, he formed a hip-hop culture club that quickly attracted 300 people twice a week for breakdancing lessons. Brackett and some friends moved into an abandoned fraternity house, which was dubbed the “House of Hip-Hop” and hosted legendary breakdancing, rapping, and free-styling parties.
“That experience taught me a lot about civics and organizing, and about how living and participating in an art form could bring thousands of people together,” he said.
Through his music, culture, and academic studies, Brackett found a socially conscious beat that flows on to help other kids.
“I wasn’t a dancer, I wasn’t an actor, I wasn’t a philosopher, I wasn’t a singer, but I became all of those things because of my time at CSU,” he said.