An early chance encounter with producer and engineer Riccardo Shulz — who also sits on the faculty of the music school at Carnegie Mellon University — provided a connection that put local rapper ChaRon Don (real name: ChaRon White) into schools as a teaching artist.
Back when White and DJ Huggy were still high-schoolers looking for someone to master their early work, they contacted Shulz, who lived nearby in East Liberty. It was the start of a long working relationship; three years ago, Shulz recommended White to fellow faculty member Natalie Ozeas, head of the department of music education, who runs the Urban Music Education Project. That project, founded 20 years ago, originally supplied keyboards and African drums for schools in districts in Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. More recently, the project took on hip-hop education, employing teaching artists including White.
"Not only is ChaRon an artist, but he's a great teacher," Ozeas says. "I call him a stealth teacher, because he doesn't just stand there and lecture. He walks around, he goes down to the kids' level, speaks quietly. One of the principals last year said, 'ChaRon is the greatest role model, because he's totally cool, and kind.'"
And for White, teaching budding young artists has its benefits in his life.
"It helps me to stay open as far as how I write and what I write about," he says. "If I hang with just the people I came up with musically, a lot of times we can start speaking from the perspective of old heads, start hating on the younger generation: 'I don't know why they talk about this! I don't know why they dress like this!' And in one respect, I get it. But then in another respect, when we were younger, the older generation was saying the same stuff about us! I have to walk that balance, and I love that balance."