The 2-Cent Listen Literacy & Arts Festival popped off on a hot Saturday in May on Bayou Road near Broad Street in front of the Community Book Center. A stage featured a continuous flow of musicians and speakers, including Dee-1 (the dude whose song calls out Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, and 50 Cent) and stalwart 2-Cent supporter and local hip hop legend Mannie Fresh. A build-a-book tent provided kids supplies to write and put together their own small masterpieces, but their DIY efforts were not a response to an absence of books—Scholastic rolled through and gave away 4,000 copies from their catalog over the course of the day.
I showed up late to the fest, straight from a reading by Karen Tei Yamashita at Octavia across town. The afternoon sun beat down on my friends and I, so after watching Dee-1 we ducked inside the Community Book Center, where I talked to Mama Jennifer—who runs the joint regardless of what she or anyone says—and picked up a copy of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King (Mama Jennifer was delighted I’d chosen what, I found out upon bringing it to the counter, was the first entry on the reading list she created for her 60th birthday).
Outside, little kids showed few signs of fatigue as the dozens of festival volunteers stationed at refreshment tents and vendor and activity booths began to break down and pack up. The event was a success by any measure. It coupled great entertainment with the insistent message that issues of poverty and violence in the city are directly linked to a lack of education, and that making learning fun is our best hope of confronting not only these issues, but the school-to-prison pipeline that perpetuates them.
Check out 2-Cent.com for updates on the group’s community activism activities, as well as their genius parodies of contemporary hip hop, like “A 2-Cent Christmas” (featuring Eminem, Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and many more) and, their newest, “The Future of Hip Hop” (feat. Donkey Trunks).