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Hip Hop Cell Block Project

Award Recipients - 2002

Virgilio Bravo, Founder

Hip-Hop Cell Block Project (HHCBP) is a grassroots initiative that presents live hip hop performances with New York prisons.  Its objective is to engage inmates and artists in dialogue about community issues and self-empowerment.  HHCBP is premised on the belief that hip hop connects with young inmates who are primarily youth of color from low-income communities.  Progressive hip hop lyrics frequently refer to prison experience, and by presenting hip hop artists and speakers who share similar backgrounds, HHCBP helps build relationships with and among inmates and serves “to validate the inmates’ experience of struggle and survival.”
Hip Hop Cell Block began at Rikers Prison in 1996.  When Mr. Bravo discovered that hip hop was not listed as an “admissible” activity at the facility, he turned to a former graffiti artist turned corrections officer, and they successfully began organizing shows within the prison.  Artists connect with inmates creating a camaraderie that leads to decrease of inmate on inmate violence over the following days.  Currently, HHCBP takes place twice monthly at the men’s facility on Rikers Island.  Performances include live hip hop, funk and soul, break dancing, spoken word, and film screenings.  Future plans include expanding performances to both youth detention facilities and maximum-security prisons for inmates serving longer and life sentences.


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