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Lynchpin Creative
Rappers Drew Shade, left, and D’Angelo Samuel a.k.a. Nyzzy Nyce perform on the top of the Star Bank building for the “My City” video.

Song unites rappers around love of city

A few years back, some city fathers and mothers in Sioux City, Iowa, made a civic pride video that was so awful in all the ways civic pride videos are usually awful, that it garnered natural attention.

Whatever preconceptions and stereotypes you may harbor about Iowa, this video confirms all of them.

It’s called “We Built Sioux City” and it can be found on YouTube.

You should watch it. It’s quite entertaining in unintended ways.

Now if you want to watch something that is quite powerful in (perhaps) unexpected ways, enter “A Better Fort” into the YouTube search engine.

There you will find a tribute to Fort Wayne called “My City.”

The song was written by D’Angelo Samuel, aka Nyzzy Nyce, of the local hip-hop group CertiFLYYed and it features 19 Fort Wayne rappers, some of whom might not have considered collaborating with one another before the project was launched.

Whatever preconceptions and stereotypes you may also harbor about hip-hop, “My City” should quash them.

“My City” is a persuasive love letter to this city composed of several dazzling displays of rapping prowess and a chorus that, once heard, may never leave your head.

It is a stirring and soaring piece of work, one that any city of any size would be proud to call its own.

“My City” is part of an initiative called HipHop4theCity, which was devised by an organization called A Better Fort.

A Better Fort was founded two years ago to connect Fort Wayne’s young people with volunteer opportunities, says board member Christine Fisher.

Last summer, fellow board member Alex Smith suggested that the organization should try to help raise the profile of local musicians, specifically hip-hop musicians, Fisher says.

Fisher says she knew so little about the local hip-hop scene that she had to go on an Internet fishing expedition to find probable candidates. And that’s how A Better Fort found Samuel.

Samuel says he had already written “My City” at that point, although he hadn’t envisioned it as the focal point of a giant collaborative effort. But Samuel believed in the project and recruited the performers.

The song was recorded in October at Digitracks in Fort Wayne, and Kelly Lynch of Lynchpin Creative was tapped to shoot the video.

Lynch, who won first place at The Really Big Short Film Festival in Indianapolis in 2008, says he was already well known to staffers at A Better Fort as someone who is “crazy invested in making Fort Wayne cool.”

Lynch spent a month doing prep work and shot the video in early December making use of such Fort Wayne locales as Hyde Bros. Books, Neat Neat Neat Records, Parkview Field, the Wells Street Bridge and Coney Island.

Lynch says he has come to believe that the best way to get people excited about a city’s future is not to shove a vision for that future “down their throats.” It is to help them imagine the future for themselves.

“I have been telling a lot of people lately that we need to stop telling people what the story is and start showing them.”

“Kelly’s been unbelievable,” Fisher says. “His insight has been unbelievable.”

Judging from the comments on YouTube, “My City” is achieving what civic pride videos rarely do despite the best of intentions: It is making people who live here feel proud and people who don’t live here pine away a little.

Lynch says the video seems to have “caught people by surprise, by storm” since it debuted last month.

Oftentimes, the reactions expressed through email and Internet postings have been deeply personal and deeply emotional, Fisher says.

“My mom watched it for the first time and her eyes got watery,” Samuel says. “And I thought, ‘After a decade of work, things are finally falling into place.’

“One thing I said to everyone when I started out was that I was never going to behave as if I was ashamed to be from Fort Wayne,” he says. “That’s why the hook (in the song) came so natural to me.”

Fisher says A Better Fort is preparing a HipHop4theCity template for other municipalities to use.

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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