Apply: Kanye West’s Got Bars Program

Are you between the ages of 15 and 24?

Are you interested in making G.O.O.D. music?

Well, you can come super close to feeling like you got signed alongside Pusha T, Big Sean and others on Kanye West’s label. Through his Donda’s House non-profit, the prolific and passionate MC is offering young people an opportunity to get training in music writing, recording, and engineering with an extra emphasis on building the discipline it takes to make it in the industry.

Right now, Chicagoans between the ages above are encouraged to apply for the first phase of this program. JET spoke to the newly minted executive director of Donda’s House, Donnie Smith, also an educator for Whitney M. Young Magnet Center in Chicago. The program will be based out of St. Sabina, the home of the well-known and beloved Father Pfleger, who has been waging a personal war against the violence plaguing the Windy City streets. We also chatted up Che Smith, better known as Rhymefest, a longtime MC, Grammy winner and collaborator with West.

Here’s what they told us about the program, which pays homage to West’s mother. We also got a little scoop on how Rhymefest feels “Yeezus” fared in the public sphere. Make sure to read this piece in its entirety for information on how to apply. Please also pass this along to other candidates who would benefit from this artistic endeavor.

JET: So, tell us a bit about Got Bars?  What is this program about?

Donnie Smith: It’s a music and art training program. We’re looking to recruit between 20 and 30 young people between the ages of 15 to 24. The main purpose of the program is to take young people interested in either pursuing music as a hobby or a career and teaching them the fundamentals of creative writing, music writing and recording. Also, we focus on health and wellness. In order to pursue a goal in creative arts, you must be disciplined. We have an ex-professional football player running that component. He’ll teach students how to create an individualized fitness plan and give them tips on nutrition and different types of exercise, including yoga.

JET: Are you getting a lot of applicants?

Donnie Smith: We are…  We have actually exceeded the number of applicants we’re searching for, but we are still recruiting until Aug. 2.

JET: You want people between the ages of 15 and 24. Why that age span?   

Donnie Smith: There aren’t many programs that service that particular demographic. If you look at individuals who perpetuate violence in the city, that’s the age range.

JET: True, but some might say it’s too late to turn someone around by that age, particularly when you are talking 21 to 24…

Donnie Smith: We think that 15 to 24 year olds…they are in the most need of help. We want to get kids in high school, that young adult age range who are confused about where they are in life. We want to give them direction… so many people have just given up on that demographic. And I would add that Dr. Donda West was passionate about the high school dropout rate. We want to be working to help with that at the younger age of that spectrum.

JET: What are you looking for? 

Donnie Smith: Individuals who are open minded and just passionate about music and the role music plays in their life. It’s completely about music passion.  We’re not turning people away who have dropped out of high school or may have a record. You’ll see that on the application.

JET: Is this program going to be available nationally at some point?

Donnie Smith: Eventually, we are planning to go national. While in Chicago, hoping to add more programs: drama, dance, art. Two years from now, we plan to have additional programs across other mediums.

JET: Great, we’d love to get Rhymefest in on this to talk about his role, since he is co-founder and assistant directorWhat does being involved in this program mean for you?

Che Smith: I’m just excited. Donda West raised Kanye, but this is also how she raised his friends  A lot of music you are hearing from Kanye now started in Donda’s house, in Kanye’s bedroom. We’re bringing that experience to this program.

JET: We know that ‘Ye represents for Chicago, but he’s such an international star…Why did he start this program in Chicago rather than any other city?

Che Smith: Chicago is important for a few reasons. We’ve got the Art Institute, and this is the center of consciousness in hip hop. We’ve got Common, Lupe, Rhymefest, Kanye. But we’ve also got unprecedented murders and violence. In Chicago, if we can take young people and make them successes here, then we can replicate that around the world. Chicago also is the base of where Dr. Donda West started from and honoring her legacy  is basically starting from Chicago.

JET:  So will you be teaching the music sessions, as a Grammy-winning artist?

Che Smith: Well, we have staff and like Donnie said, we have an ex-pro ball player leading the fitness program. We also have a musician who plays multiple instruments and he will be leading participants in recording. Every Wednesday, they will get to record  their own track for free. Someone on staff will be leading them in that.  Donnie and I will be leading the curriculum part, and doing the writing training. I, of course, will help with the writing because I helped Kanye with Yeezus. I wrote four songs on Yeezus.

JET: Speaking of Yeezus, how do you feel it did on the charts?

Che Smith: I mean, it did Kanye numbers. Kanye usually goes platinum, so he did 350,000 the first week. He did it in a nontraditional way. Instead of saying ‘I want the big radio hits and videos on MTV,’ he did what he wanted to do as an artist. It just shows that people still gravitate to an independent artist. You don’t have to be hooked up in the system to succeed. It’s a fusion, you’re hearing hip hop, punk, rock and rage…a lot of different sounds. This is what we want to bring to young people at Donda’s house. We don’t want them to feel put in a musical box. Everything they make or create, from spoken word to a track, we don’t want them to think it has to sound like whatever is on the radio.

Apply now for a spot in Got Bars, which will be taking applications until Friday, Aug. 2. Here is the application, and best of luck!