Shuffle: Cleveland's 'Fresh' New Hip-Hop Makerspace

Dec 13, 2018

FreshLab is open for beat makers on Cleveland’s west side. It's a new hip-hop makerspace that's giving both aspiring and professional rappers a place to connect and create. 

Doc Harrill's vision
The makerspace in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood has a voice-over booth, computers and iPads with audio recording and editing software and a mixing and mastering studio to create professional recordings. It’s the vision of longtime Cleveland hip-hop artist and DJ, Doc Harrill.

After two decades in the music industry, Harrill started using his voice to impact the community. In 2011, he started Fresh Camp, a hip-hop recording summer camp for a handful of kids in his Glenville neighborhood. Then it grew into his nonprofit, Refresh Collective.

'I believe that actions speaks louder than words, but I think music speaks even louder'

"Hip-hop kind of made me dig really deep and say, 'What’s the most passionate, deepest message I can bring forth and put to words and share that with the community?' So to me, what you say is really important and I don’t like a lot of the things I hear coming through lyrics that affect kids."

Helping kids 
Harrill said he didn't like the gun violence that's the focus of so many rap lyrics. He wanted to promote positive messages through year-round songwriting workshops and residencies for young people like Ahdonis Gordon. The 15-year-old is one of Harrill’s protégés, who now works there. 

"Doc had felt that I was more advanced in helping people," he said. "Now I help kids make beats."

Gordon recently ran a beat-making session, where he showed anyone who stopped by the makerspace how to create music through an iPad app. Gordon is also an aspiring rapper, and uses FreshLab to work on his own projects, including a song he's currently working on.

"My grandma passed September 6th. And I’ve had a lot of stuff on my mind and lyrics is one of the ways that I get anger out or stuff off my chest," he said. 

'I used to be sitting on my porch and talking to kids as they walk by and now it's like, this feels like it's a porch'

And that’s really the heart of the maker space -- a place for Cleveland kids and artists to come and express themselves. Christian Thompson, 18, attended Harrill’s summer camp and also works at FreshLab.

"I believe that actions speaks louder than words, but I think music speaks even louder. Hopefully we can make even more productive members of society and more fantastic rap artists."

In addition to providing a space to create, FreshLab also serves as a place for the hip-hop community to unite. On a recent Saturday afternoon, up-and-coming Cleveland artist Los P stopped by and ended up giving Ahdonis Gordon feedback on his song.  

Making and selling shirts
The FreshLab storefront also makes and sells t-shirts to support the nonprofit. The silk screen shirts include catchy phrases that tie together Refresh Collective’s initiatives – making music, promoting anti-violence and providing fresh food for inner-city neighborhoods. 

Doc Harrill says he’s proud of the new makerspace and how far his organization has come.   

"It’s connected with the neighborhood and I love that. I used to be sitting on my porch and talking to kids as they walk by and now it’s like, this feels like it’s a porch."

Harrill says next year, he’ll be adding a new summer camp near FreshLab on the west side, in an effort to breathe more beats into the city.