On Wednesday November 6, 2019, a longstanding figure in the Seattle hip hop community came to Seattle Central College to discuss how music and activism have played a major role in his life. As part of the Speaking Up, Speaking Out series, Gabriel Teodros, a musician, KEXP DJ, and former student at Seattle Central came to educate and commemorate activism through music with students and staff alike.
Teodros started the event with a showcase of his music, beginning with “Greeny Jungle”, an anthem spreading messages of freedom and battling oppression. The music video showcases a protest in downtown Seattle. It’s this imagery combined with the unity of local citizens that makes the message all the more powerful. Activism mixed with music isn’t anything new to Teodros, as it is a persistent subject in his work.
After the video finished, Teodros took time to reflect on his early years, specifically how he found his love for hip hop.
Teodros discussed growing up with an Ethiopian mother and a Scottish/Irish/Indigenous father. He was raised in a strict Ethiopian household which he admitted is an “environment vastly different” than the Beacon Hill neighborhood right outside his door. It was hip hop that helped the young MC adjust and connect to the people living beside him in his community.
Going to local record stores and scanning for new music is where Teodros’ fondness for hip hop came from. Before Teodros became the musician he is today, he went through a stint of trying out different creative outlets. From breakdancing to DJ-ing to experimenting with graffiti, it wasn’t until he landed on rapping that he realized he had a genuine talent for it.
A closet MC in high school, he didn’t start taking rapping seriously until after he graduated, with his first group “500 Years” being formed with his classmates at Seattle Central. It was experimenting with different local artists in Seattle that caused him to see unification and connection happening due to this art form, which later developed into a form of activism.
On the subjects of activism and organizing, Teodros believes the “best thing you can do is bring people together who may not see themselves in each other,” when describing the background on his diverse range of fans every time he performs at a show.
Concluding the panel with questions about his thoughts on lyrics, the changing of the music industry, and song meanings, the event particularly highlighted a theme of coming together for something bigger. This drive has been a constant in Teodros’ life. Looking back on the WTO protest Teodros attended on Capitol Hill in the 90’s, he saw all types of people coming together, and not “just the white folks that got credit for being there. It was primarily people of color that were there.” As Gabriel Teodros grew as an artist and began to get more recognition, it gave him more opportunities to work with people across the globe.
These people were all united by the same passion for music. With “hyper local work done en masse, like done in lots of different communities, when you connect those different dots, it creates a mass movement,” Teodros explains.