Surrounded by a group of energetic students, Jae Lejit sat quietly in the centre of a third floor classroom in Ryerson’s Communication Centre.
The sweater he wore for this interview, and had designed for members of the youth oriented hip-hop workshop he founded, 16 Bars, singled him out.
He led the way to a quiet location in the university before settling down on a couch, distant from the excited voices of students. Lejit explained that he and fellow 16 Bars member, Isaac Mbikay, known on stage as Stretch Turner, are at the university to attend a business workshop.
He hopes the lessons from the workshop will contribute to the growing success of 16 Bars, an organization he created in 2012 to provide a hub for young Toronto artists to network.
In January, Premier Kathleen Wynne invited Lejit to perform at the Liberal’s annual New Year’s Levee after meeting him in 2015. It is opportunities like those that Lejit hopes 16 Bars will create for its members.
“We provide [participants] with a network of resources such as entrepreneurs, CEOs, business leaders, recording studios … and funding opportunities,” Lejit explains.
16 Bars is an initiative for Toronto youth to channel their familiarity with hip-hop into artistic expression.
Members arrange dance workshops and performance tutorials led by themselves or hired instructors.
“What makes 16 Bars different from other hip-hop workshops is that it explains [hip-hop] in a way that is outside the box,” says Mbikay, an emerging artist who says his experience with the group has given him the opportunity to polish his skills.
“[The workshop] includes the five elements of hip-hop and breaks them down in different ways to explore all concepts of hip-hop.”
Jahmeika Reid is a MC still in high school and the only female member of the organization.
“We ended the program with a showcase and I got to perform a song called Pinky Swear,” Reid said.
“It was me making a promise that this is something I’m going to do and I’m going to get very far in it.”
Known on stage as Meika Holiday, Reid is given studio time to get industry experience. Although she’s mostly been doing covers, right now she is in the process of creating her own material.
This summer, 16 Bars will be approaching their four-year anniversary.
They will celebrate with the launch of their first collaborative album 5E, which references the five elements of hip-hop that brought their team together.