So you want to be a rap star? It's a question many young Americans answer with a resounding yes. But for those from troubled neighborhoods, it's often a pipe dream sidetracked by violence and drugs. In the city of Boston, one man brings the studio to them.
In his spare time 41-year-old rapper and DJ Mike Boston takes his tricked-out pickup truck, turned into a mobile recording studio, and drives through some of those same neighborhoods to help at-risk kids. He calls his truck "Mobile Stü" and offers those who don’t have the means to get into a professional studio and record their original rap songs.
But the Mobile Stü does more than just facilitate new music — it’s also helping to ease tensions, such as in the Dorchester neighborhood. After a deadly shooting of a 16-year-old there last year, Boston headed to the area and invited young men and women to record themselves. Boston's goal is to help kids in at risk neighborhoods stay away from violence and, through music, give them a voice and sense of purpose.
"Bringing something valuable like the Mobile Stü over to their neighborhood, to their house, they really feel like — I got to deserve this, you know," he told NBC News. "And I try to tell 'em all the time, 'You deserve this. You deserve better. You deserve good.'"
He first dreamed up the Mobile Stü nearly a decade ago, and recently used it to launch a campaign called #BlackWithBlue, aiming to break down walls of distrust between police and the community. The campaign kicked off last month with a collaborative song titled "One Beat for Peace," which features both police officers and local kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester rapping verses alongside one another.
Boston knows personally what the music can mean.
"You're laying your pain down on the track a lot of the time," he said.
Having served prison time two decades ago, Boston has the street credentials to be welcomed into many of the city’s most challenging neighborhoods. It's a natural convergence of passions for Boston, who in addition to being an artist and recording engineer, spent time working with a criminal justice-focused nonprofit called Roca, which helps ex-offenders in their late teens and early 20s integrate back into society in an effort to decrease recidivism rates.
His turnaround goes a long way with young people in the city.
"I see Mike as my mentor, and I see him, like, you know, big bro," said 18 year-old Amauris Melendez. "And he's helped me look at things in a much positive way, which has helped me in so many situations."
Boston’s Mobile Stü even caught the eye of a local advertising executive, who's sponsoring Boston to help turn his contraption into a living presence, with a website and merchandise. Time will tell where the beats will roll.