The Lifeboat Project vol. 1 is the ambitious and inspirational brainchild of local hip hop artist, activist and musical instructor David Hodges. David has been working with high school students in music workshops for a while, so this extension of that work, an album made almost exclusively with students from Lester B. Pearson High School. In his own work David’s lyrics have always balanced the catharsis of venting frustration and sadness with positive messages of hope and strength. This balance is found again on this release and it’s an unsurprising result of encouraging teenagers, undoubtedly experiencing a myriad of emotional and life-altering experiences, to express themselves artistically.
Like David Hodges’ other releases, the production on this record is incredible. His technical ability, attention to detail and ear for trends gives each song the air of a commercial hit. This is no small feat when working with artists who have likely never recorded anything before. While most “inspirational” pop music often has an aura of dishonesty, it is refreshingly absent on these recordings. Rather than giving these songs a pop-like sheen to guarantee record sales, it seems that the point here is self-sufficiency. By teaching these students how to turn their individual struggles into songs that are indistinguishable from hits they hear every day, David is simultaneously passing on the priceless gift of art as catharsis and showing these kids that with the right tools and dedication their dreams of success are within reach. As someone who has struggled with feelings of worthlessness as a teenager I consider this aspect of The Lifeboat Project it’s most noteworthy success.
Given it’s incredibly radio-friendly sound, this album falls in an interesting point on the hip-hop spectrum. To some, these songs will sound generic, a re-hashing of tired musical trends. But in a world where hip-hop has all but abandoned the cultural pillars of social change and justice it originally was built on, the lyrical concepts and inspiring educational tone of this project does more than fill those gaps. Whether they’re drenched in auto-tune or not, all of the voices singing on this album are defiant and beautiful. Not every rapper on this record has a flawless flow but every word that leaves their mouth is imbued with power and meaning.
Another aspect of The Lifeboat workshops is teaching the students how to be skilled and engaging performers in a live setting. As a result the students will be performing these songs for the public at Lester B. Pearson High School on February 13 and tickets can be purchased here, three days after the official launch of the album on iTunes.
The Lifeboat project is available now on iTunes. The Lifeboat Project: A Hip Hop Musical takes place February 13 at Lester B. Pearson High School (11575 P.M. Farvier, Montreal Nord) at 7 p.m. $10.