Project Om 

Hip-hop, B-boys and Jen Kniss

Over the course of the last few months, I have had the opportunity to meet some really amazing musical artists. They are temperamental, smart, clever, emotional, a little nutty, passionate and sometimes obsessive. Enter Jen Kniss--along with Marcus Hunter and Eliza Schulz--and her immersion in Project Om.

Project Om is an amazing event that Boise Weekly is proud to sponsor, but I wanted (read: needed) to know more about the show before I could write about it. I asked Kniss to meet with me, and on a balmy Wednesday evening, we sat outside a popular downtown restaurant to talk about Project Om. She is funny and friendly and so passionate (read: obsessed) about her work, I was immediately impressed with her. Once again, I was in the presence of someone who loves what she does and is more than willing to talk candidly about it.

I asked Kniss, why call it Project Om? She told me Project because it's an ongoing process. Simple enough. Om was a little tougher. The word Om has several definitions, but one that I found fit best with how Kniss feels about this project is, "The primal sound from which the universe emanates." Kniss explained to me that hip-hop and electronic sounds "vibrate her inner string." And, to her, Om is humanity and humanity is the Om. A little esoteric maybe, but she truly feels that hip-hop can be a way of expression for young people who might otherwise spend their after school hours getting into trouble. And for people young and old who may not know (or care) much about hip-hop, this year's Project Om may change a lot of people's minds.

This year's event includes breakdance and MC competitions that are open to everyone, but also promises some special performances. World-renowned vocal percussion artist Rahzel, best known as a member of the hip-hop group The Roots will be there, as will the B-boy groups Massive Monkees and Circle of Fire, DJ T-Rock, the EST.Yesterday skate team, with locals Kamphire Collective and DJ Rock Rob. The event will be in the China Blue parking lot this year thanks to the generosity of owner Ted Challenger. So, now I had the details. But, why does Kniss do this? Why does she start months in advance planning, fundraising and obsessing?

Shortly after we sat down, Kniss pulled out a notebook. Ripping a few pages out, she handed them to me and said, "I've been thinking about why I do this and wrote down a few things." A few things is three handwritten pages. After we talked for awhile, I realized that my notes on Project Om couldn't compare with her own. I decided that what she had written had so much heart, that except for a few editorial changes I would just reprint most of it here. So, imagine you are sitting across from a tall, thin, casually dressed, 20-something woman with brown hair and bright eyes who deeply feels what she does and wants to tell you about it:

"A few years ago I fell in love ... twice. I fell in love with a man and I fell in love with Boise and I wanted to contribute to the arts community. I can't dance, can't sing, can't draw, but I love hip-hop. So if you give the things you love a reason to exist, continue and get better, it gives you a chance to experience them more and share them with others.

"Why hip-hop? Have you ever watched a breakdancer right in front of you or heard someone spit poetry to a beat? Have you ever really watched what a DJ does? There is no denying the soul there. It's utterly striking. And even more striking ... these people live right around here. I take pride in that."

"If you assume that the 'inner city' youth are somehow dangerous, this show is intended to make you think twice. Most everyone you see uses his or her art as a positive drive. The B-boys (breakdancers) I've met are ripped and lean, many are vegetarian or vegan, very few serious B-boys drink and none of them smoke. They need those bodies of theirs healthy to defy gravity the way they do. Same goes for the MCs and DJs. These people spend so many hours perfecting their art, they don't have time to wreak havoc. If you want to know which kids to be afraid of, look to the bored upper and middle class kids. And if keeping kids busy and out of trouble isn't enough reason to promote this urban culture, the beauty, talent and expression should be. These urban arts are the balance to the classic arts--theater, ballet, symphony--they stand on equal ground."

I'm not so sure they stand on equal ground now, but with passionate people like Kniss behind these urban arts, it won't be long before they do.

Project Om, September 10, 6 p.m., China Blue parking lot, 100 S. 6th St., $7 general, children under 10 free with adult pass. Sign up at the door for competitions or contact misskniss@gmail.com.

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