At Hip Hop For Change, Two New Creative Studios and a Seismic Shift

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The four Hip-Hop for Change leaders, two men and two women, stand in front of a red studio backdrop covered in graffiti.
The Hip Hop for Change leadership team (from left) Marlon Richardson, Pallavi Kidambi, Marc Stretch and Malina King at the organization's new Bayview-Hunters Point film and recording studio in San Francisco on May 8, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history.

There’s a new creative hub blossoming between auto shops and construction businesses in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point. On a recent afternoon, Hip Hop For Change’s education director Marlon Richardson beams with excitement as he walks us through the 1,200-square-foot studio, which will soon come alive with possibilities: a recording space for music and podcasts; a lighting set-up for photography and video shoots; a screen-printing press for artist merch.

On June 26, Hip Hop For Change’s new San Francisco studio will be ready to welcome the thousands of children and young people the organization serves every year, plus local artists from its staff and the surrounding community. A second studio is coming soon to the organization’s North Oakland headquarters. And other developments are on the horizon, including a 24/7 online radio station and Pipeline 2 Positivity, a paid internship program for system-impacted youth to get training in artistic, professional and restorative justice skills.

“We’re putting them in a system that’s going to change the individual for the better, that’s going to prepare them for a world that has historically kept them out of the equation,” says Richardson, an MC and producer who performs as UnLearn The World. “And we’re saying that you can do so by being your most authentic self, finding your voice and letting your voice be heard as loud as possible across all these different creative spectrums.”

These new, ambitious projects come at an exciting time for Hip Hop For Change, but also one of seismic shifts for the organization. The most prominent hip-hop education nonprofit in the Bay Area has recently received an influx of funding from partners such as Meta and the San Francisco 49ers, which has allowed it to expand its youth programming. And the organization has ambitions to take its hip-hop curriculum — which teaches history, culture, beatmaking and other music skills at schools throughout California — nationwide.

Marlon Richardson, education director, poses for a portrait at Hip Hop For Change’s new Bayview-Hunters Point film and recording studio in San Francisco on May 8, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

This period of growth has not been without turbulence: In March, the nonprofit announced on its Instagram that founder Khafre James was removed as executive director in January, and that he subsequently resigned. James, who oversaw the growth of the organization from a grassroots initiative, had been the face of the organization for 10 years, and the announcement stirred up controversy and speculation.


Since James’ departure, Hip Hop For Change is now collectively helmed by Richardson, grassroots director Malina King, marketing and creative director Marc Stretch and grants manager Pallavi Kidambi. And the four of them were tight-lipped during our interview about the circumstances surrounding James’ departure, saying only that the organization’s board of directors hired an outside investigator to look into allegations about his leadership, which led to his removal. When reached by KQED, James pointed to a “disgruntled employee” and said “there was no merit” to the allegations.

“I’ve always been proud of what I started at Hip Hop For Change, and I wish them the best simply for the fact that they’re teaching babies in the community, the culture,” says James, whose new nonprofit, Hip Hop For the People, is hosting a free health and wellness summit at the New Parish with Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan on June 25. “As long as they’re doing that, they have my full blessing.”

Malina King, grassroots director, poses for a portrait at Hip Hop For Change’s new Bayview film and recording studio in San Francisco on May 8, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

At Hip Hop For Change, its four leaders are focused on forward motion. King is building up the grassroots staff — the canvassing team with clipboards often seen asking passersby if they want to help end white supremacy — and expanding their professional development opportunities. Richardson is busy getting more hip-hop history and musical programming into schools up and down the state, from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa.

A number of schools have already seen those programs unlock students’ creativity and self-expression. Dr. Delores Thompson, the pathway coordinator at Oakland School for the Arts who began her career at Black-owned television station Soul Beat TV, says she appreciates Hip Hop For Change’s emphasis on storytelling — an empowering facet of the culture that is often neglected in the mainstream music industry.

Pallavi Kidambi, grants manager, poses for a portrait at Hip Hop for Change’s new Bayview film and recording studio in San Francisco on May 8, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“We’ve had hip-hop artists like Grandmaster Flash, ‘The Message,’ Public Enemy, you know, all these people that actually told stories and either undergirded movements and or started movements,” she says.

“Storytellers not only can lift up our community, but they can also help our community to go to the next level or kind of kite us to where we’re going,” Thompson adds.

Kidambi, the grants manager, is securing more funding and also working on next year’s annual Women’s Empowerment Summit. Along with Stretch, the four Hip Hop For Change leaders are moving as a unit. All artists themselves, the youngest among them are still establishing themselves within hip-hop while the oldest have seen its evolution into a global force. As conversations about inclusivity evolve, the team has embraced intergenerational collaboration, and is a rare example of an explicitly pro-woman and pro-LGBTQ+ hip-hop organization.

Marc Stretch, marketing and creative director, poses for a portrait at Hip Hop For Change’s new Bayview film and recording studio in San Francisco on May 8, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“I am a Black Latina queer woman from East Oakland, and that is hip-hop,” says King. “I’m in the right place.”

“Hip-hop is expansive,” says Stretch. “It’s not defined by the ’90s, it’s not defined by the 2000s. It’s defined by whoever is listening to it, whoever’s creating it. … The culture is for all of us now, and we take from it what’s important to us. And sometimes the important part is just to be quiet and listen to someone else.”

Hip Hop For Change’s Pipeline 2 Positivity youth internship program is currently accepting applications. The organization’s San Francisco studio opens for bookings on June 26.

UnLearn The World hosts a youth MC Competition for Town Nights with CURYJ on June 16 at Josie de la Cruz Park in Oakland. UnLearn The World and Marc Stretch host Mill Valley’s Juneteenth celebration on June 17. And Hip Hop For Change curates a youth performance showcase at the San Jose Earthquakes soccer game on July 1, celebrating hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.


Correction: This story listed the size of Hip Hop For Change’s San Francisco studio as 12,000 square feet when it is 1,200.