Tyler Griffin, the North Bergen rapper who helped Mayor Nicholas Sacco’s reelection campaign by performing a rap vocal titled “I Be From North Bergen, Son,” says that because he was barred by North Bergen High School officials from performing rap at the school’s vocal showcase this spring, he withdrew from the show entirely and only attended to cheer on some of his schoolmates who performed.
Griffin was looking forward to performing for the showcase because this was his last year at North Bergen High School. He auditioned with one of his own songs and he says vocal music teacher Jennifer Penton, who is in charge of arranging the acts for the show, initially approved his 16 bar rap.
“They won’t be able to keep silencing rappers for long.” – Tyler Griffin
“It wasn’t what I really wanted to do but I knew if I showed her what I really wanted she would say no. So the Thursday before the dress rehearsal that coming Monday and Tuesday, I went to her with two new performances,” said Griffin. He says that was when Penton rejected his alternate performance.
What once began with a song ends with a protest
Griffin and his mother, Michelle Nunez, who is also his manager, say one thing they found perplexing was that there have been last minute changes made in performances in the past.
He says he showed Penton one four-song medley songs consisting of half rap, half singing, and another that was a collaboration with two singers in which he would also sing.
“This is something we all do and it’s never been a problem before. I’m not the only student who has changed or added performances at the last minute,” says Griffin.
He confirmed that Ms. Penton did not reject the performances at first, although the next day she spoke to him. The collaboration was accepted because it was all singing.
But according to Griffin, she said that his solo performance was “all over the place” with 85 percent rap and 15 percent singing, which she rejected.
Griffin’s mom stepped in when he spoke to her and they went to speak with Principal Paschal Tennaro.
“For three years they have censored rap. I want everyone to know that after awhile of talking to my principal, music director and my teacher that the principal said I could sing and do some rapping. I felt like they were just saying, ‘let him do it and that’s it,’” said Griffin.
Fighting for change
Griffin dared to ask principal Tennaro if he would ever allow rappers to perform for the vocal showcase after he graduates, and according to Griffin his principal said no. At that point Griffin decided to not perform.
“People think I just refused to perform because they wouldn’t let me do what I want.”
Regardless of the response that Griffin received, he still went to the vocal showcase to support his peers.
“I’m standing up for my right to fight censorship,” Griffin said. “I am standing up for my peers who are being censored, so I gave up performing my last year to make a point. This isn’t about me, it was about the ones to come.”
Since then he has begun a campaign until changes are made.
“I was scared, I’m not going to lie. I thought maybe I’ll get treated different, maybe it will affect my graduation,” said Griffin. “We can’t live scared. The reason we have the right to do most of what we do now is because someone stood up and wasn’t scared. All I’m asking is for the school to include rappers in the vocal showcase guidelines… Give them a fair chance to hear their performance and get on the show.”
Confusion lies with what is vocal
Principal Tennaro told The Reporter that the vocal showcase is strictly vocal. He was making an exception for Griffin since he is a senior. Griffin on the other hand has said that rap is vocal. Tennaro said he was confused hearing that Griffin still did not want to perform since he was allowing him to perform. Tennaro believes that Griffin didn’t want to adhere to a strict allotted time for the showcase.
He said Griffin “gave Ms. Penton a seven and half minute rap” and we asked him if he can limit it to four and a half minutes. Tennaro thought it was strange that Griffin, his mom and their spokesperson stormed out after their conversation.
“An exception was made for him,” Tennaro said. “Vocal showcase highlights singing quality, that’s when it’s appropriate.”
“All I want is for the rappers in our school to have the same chance to shine as the singers. Rapping is a vocal art. Rapping is a form of entertainment and expression just like singing,” said Griffin. “Hiphop/rapping is what most of the community is listening to… Why not encourage something that is so big in the young community right now? To be able to have an audition and get the chance to showcase what we do and what we love.”
Griffin strongly believes that the school is sending a message that rap is “a bad thing.”
“They won’t be able to keep silencing rappers for long.”
Using his talent for good
Griffin attributes his rapping to the poems and stories that he began writing at age 9. He currently has two singles, “The Summer Song” and “Karla” which he is about to release.
He says he’s helped communities by doing a young and gifted talent fundraiser conducted by The Lady Doves from Queens. The proceeds went to the summer programs for kids.
He has also done a fundraiser for Celiac disease. Both he and his organization ‘FittoFlow’ did a “teens with voices” fundraiser in south Bronx. This was to raise money for the music department at their local center.
He thanks the people that have taught him so much and those that have been his biggest supporters like his mom.
“All I want to do is use my talents and everything God gave me to make a better life for myself and make a difference in other people’s lives.