Ypsilanti

Intergenerational Ypsi hip-hop project creates juvenile diversion program as part of second album

Ypsi-based intergenerational hip-hop project Formula 734 is back this year with a second album and a focus on keeping young men out of the criminal justice system.

The album, "Formula 734: Volume 2," and an accompanying documentary are part of a project of the Washtenaw chapter of My Brother's Keeper (WMBK), a national initiative that aims to address persistent opportunity gaps for young men of color. Over the course of many months, a group of Black men ranging from their teens to their 40s gathered to make music and document it. The first Formula 734 album was released in July of 2020, with an accompanying documentary completed a few months later.

"Formula 734: Volume 2" kicked off earlier this year in partnership with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office, a new addition to the program. Jamall Bufford, Formula 734 co-founder and project specialist for WMBK, says the prosecutor's office identified a few young men involved in the criminal justice system and recommended them as part of a juvenile diversion program. Instead of going to court, they can go through the Formula 734 program. They are joined by older, more experienced mentors, as well as young musicians who participated in volume one of the project.

"I would say it is pretty on par for my original vision," Bufford says. "... We're using it as a diversionary program to keep young Black and brown men out of detention centers."

WMBK member Rod Wallace is also the educational programs coordinator for Ypsi's Grove Studios. He says this year's program also offers an "amped-up focus on career skills and career preparation with the young people."

"It was a very rewarding experience in that we saw a lot of growth creatively as well as personally," Wallace says. "As an alternative mechanism to be able to give young men options to stay off the streets, it was valuable to me."

Bufford says the program not only had new youth participants, but also new speakers who came in to give creative and life lessons to the younger participants. Many participants had less musical experience than those in the first round, Bufford says.

"We had to take more time in artistic development this time around," he says. "And some of the younger men were hesitant to share what's going on with them. The first time around, I knew everybody, and a lot of them, I'd mentored them growing up or knew them from the music scene. This time there were a few people I didn't know."

Bufford and Wallace say the program is not just about making music but about finding out what's on young men's minds.

"So much of the discussion focused around self-talk and mental health and this desire for understanding," Wallace says. "The very first song of the project is called 'Dark Nights.' It has the lyrics 'I remember dark nights, feeling pain…' I think a lot of what the artists brought to it was an opportunity to sort of purge things."

The co-founders expect to release "Formula 734: Volume 2" sometime in late August, with the documentary to follow shortly after that. Those who would like updates on the project can check Formula 734's website or Instagram page.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Image courtesy of Formula 734.