The landscape could be more inspiring in the southeast part of Denton where AV the Great grew up and still lives. There is a huge cemetery, a juvenile detention center, the county courthouse and jail, and the alternative school. These are the day-to-day surroundings of families, what they are accustomed to, and they feel the negative energy. Now AV the Great wants to change that.
On September 26, AV the Great joined a discussion panel for Oaktopia at the Greater Arts Council to discuss expanding the music scene. There he discussed the idea of turning Fred Moore High School, now the alternative school in his neighborhood, into a magnet school, much like the renowned Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing Arts. His city council representative, Kevin Roden, was also sitting on the panel and reminded the rapper about this idea he had.
AV the Great has been making hip-hop from this part of Denton most of his life. He started free styling on street corners, performed at house shows that were usually shutdown and played a role in finally bringing hip-hop to venues in Denton like Hailey's Club. He has been written about in The Source and his videos now garner thousands of views. His latest track is posted on Timbaland’s Soundcloud page and was produced by Velly, part of the hip-hop giant’s production team.
Roden, a Denton City Council District 1 Representative, has stayed in close contact with AV the Great. “He has often spoken about what it’s like to grow up in that particular part of town and just the visual landscape,” says Roden. At one point, Roden asked AV the Great what could be done to improve the area and he tossed out the idea. “I think it had much enthusiastic response to those in attendance,” Roden says, of when the idea was brought up at the panel.
“He’s interested in having further discussions about it,” says AV the Great of Roden. Indeed, Roden says the way to pursue the idea in a more official way is to sit down with the school district and try to figure out how this could happen. Having a way to tie young local artists directly to the world-class music program at the University of North Texas is a tremendous resource to tap into and it certainly gives the idea additional substance.
“I think the time is right for this conversation,” says Roden. “What can we do as a school district to invest in this neighborhood?”
“If kids are going to have an alternative, why not make it a performing arts school?” adds AV the Great. After all, Denton is a city known for arts and performing. The city’s live performers are world class. But there should be another component for young artists. AV the Great says many of the kids from that area end up going either to the alternative school or juvenile detention.
A school for the performing arts could change that, making a tremendous impact not only on that neighborhood but the entire city. Not only would it give his community a sense of hope, but also it would help level the playing field for artists coming out of Denton. “Being from Denton, it’s always been like it’s not considered part of DFW," AV the Great says. "If you look at New York, you know, it’s five boroughs. But we’d rather separate ourselves.”
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He also points out that the city often seems geared more towards transitory college students than longtime local residents. “It’s 'grow up and get out,'” says AV the Great. “You never think about there being people who grew up here.” Working out of Denton as a rapper, he sees Dallas MCs working hard trying to make connections in New York and Los Angeles. But coming from Denton, an artist like himself must first gain acceptance from Dallas before they can try to gain the respect of different regions. “That sucks,” he says. “It breaks up hip-hop culture all around here.”
AV the Great has tried to make it countless different ways in Denton: He went to school, got a job, sold drugs, played sports and then he started making music. Often he was just freestyling on a corner before he started breaking in to public stages in the last couple years. In his lyrics, he tells the listener exactly who he is and where he is from. “I’m living out my dreams,” he says. “I want other people to be able to live out there dreams, too.”
After spending his life in Denton and trying to make it several different ways, AV the Great is confident about having knowledge to pass on to help younger artists learn from his mistakes.
“Everybody can rap and say they want to do good shit,” says AV the Great. He takes being a member of his community very seriously and tries to help create social change whenever possible. “But who’s really out there putting in the effort to give back to the community? Hip-hop artists and artists in general always ask the people to do something for us. But who’s giving back? I think it’s very important to take that stance.”