Baltimore-based hip-hop artist Wordsmith is one day and one last public concert away from wrapping up a month-long tour of Belarus and the Baltics. Following his show at Vaba Lava Theatre Centre in Narva on Tuesday night, Wordsmith took some time to speak with ERR News' Aili Vahtla about working with children in Estonia, what his purpose is as an artist and why his positive, anti-bullying message is relevant internationally.
Aili Vahtla: What made you decide to come do a tour in Belarus and the Baltics? This isn't a typical destination for an American artist.
Wordsmith: Something I've found out is that positivity, uplifting kids and talking to kids about anti-bullying is something that's needed around the world. So I found my purpose is going to these different countries and trying to grab the youth when they're in their teenage years and try to get them not to judge people so quickly.
Even as adults, sometimes we can judge people too quickly, before we get to know them. So I just really want to get into the kids' heads that they accept everybody — don't look at skin color first, don't look at how someone dresses, but get to know someone first. Have a conversation with them first, then decide if this is someone you want to spend time with.
AV: What have you noticed on your tour here — do you see differences from country to country, or moreso similarities?
WS: I see similarities more than anything. Everybody has been very inviting to my band and me — open hearts, been very excited, very energetic. When I go to the schools, the kids are always a little shy at first, like we all were as kids. But I love seeing the kids open up over time. And even if they don't outright show you gratitude, usually when the concert's over, the workshop's over, they're coming up to you real quick: "Thank you so much!"
AV: Like today, here, right now.
WS: Yeah. But I've gotten so many heartwarming messages. I've even had a couple of kids that have told me that they've been depressed, and they came to my concert and said — the words they used were, "It woke me up." So that's part of why I do this too — to get those types of messages from kids, and just get them on the positive side of things.
AV: You are going to eight towns and cities, but you're only giving these public concerts in the evenings in four. Where are you going, and who are you talking to, exactly?
WS: We're visiting a lot of schools where, again, we're reaching the kids — whether it's high school, middle school, and at one of the places we went, there were some elementary school kids as well. When I work with the kids, I try to make them part of the show, part of the workshop I'm doing, whether it's getting them to clap or put their hands in the sky.
When I'm lecturing, I infuse my music. So I'm not just talking to them like I'm their teacher. You get a little bit of lecture, and then you get a song that pretty much puts the period on what I just discussed with the kids.
AV: On the surface there might be much bigger differences between Estonia and the U.S., or between Narva and Baltimore, but when you get into it, there are a lot of similarities as well, such as issues with drugs, broken homes, single parents raising kids, poverty. There are so many differences between these two cultures, but are these similarities a point of contact, where you can reach out and connect with people here?
WS: One thing that kids often tell me when they message me is — one, they ask me, "Why did you choose this path, try to do positive music and uplifting music?" And I just say I like being myself. I'm comfortable with who I am; I'm comfortable with the path that I'm on.
The other thing they say is, "I think that you're the only hip-hop artist I've ever met that cares about the kids." And I say, well, hip-hop is glamorized a lot, but I've said that my path in particular is for the youth — to talk to them, be a voice for them. To make music for them that they can kind of grow up with, and use in times when they're feeling down or have pitfalls in life. I want them to have an artist they can turn to.
Another thing I really love is that, you know, you can hear a song on the radio or see an artist on TV and you go, "I like them because I like this song," or "I like the way they look." With me, I get to really sit down, talk to the kids, spend time with the kids. So there's a bigger connection, I feel. When I gain a fan, it's not just hey, a fan because they love my music. They've met me, and they've gotten my message.
I like to say I'm a father to kids around the world. I have kids that I talk to from Haiti, from Africa, from Israel, from Kuwait, Bahrain, all the different places I've gone. I hear from these kids either daily, weekly, or monthly. So I really love these tours, because I have immediate contact and constant contact with these kids.
AV: Do you feel like your experiences in Baltimore and your international background give you more to connect on?
WS: I was actually born in Germany; my dad was in the military. But I've been in Baltimore for 15 years.
I grew up somewhat around the world. For a period of my life, I moved around a lot growing up, and I finally got planted in Baltimore, where I got a football scholarship to Morgan State University. That's what brought me there, and I've been there ever since. I do a lot of work in the community, and with the homeless. As we spoke off-record, there's a lot of substance abuse, there's police injustice in Baltimore. There's just a lot going on — violence, of course — but I still love my city.
One thing that's in common between the U.S. and here is the bullying situation. It's a global epidemic. So the same message that I can give to kids in the city, I can give to kids out here in Estonia. Or in Belarus, or Lithuania. Because it really is a global issue. So it's easy for me to connect, no matter where you are.
AV: In addition to kids, adults deal with bullying as well — in their private lives as well as their public lives. Estonia just had a new government sworn in at the end of April, and the president went so far as to make a public call for 100 hate-free days. Coming from the U.S., what would you say to adults as well as kids with elected leaders, and leaders at the highest levels, making hateful comments? What can they do, what can you or I do, to get through and also combat that?
WS: It's really one person at a time. I'm just being honest. I wish you could gather a bunch of people, get a thousand people in an auditorium. But you've really gotta get kid by kid. And hopefully it sinks into their minds.
The big thing I harp on is not judging so fast. That's the thing I harp on the most with kids. Because we adults have this problem — we see somebody and we instantly talk about them, or we see someone and we don't even know them and we are automatically judging them. And I just want to get the kids to start thinking — get to know somebody first!
I just think that's so important, because that could be your next best friend; that could be the next person to help you through life or a struggle; that could be the person to celebrate you. So if you don't get to know a person, you don't have a conversation, you don't get to find out what we have in common, you could really be missing out on someone special in your life.
I think that part connects with the kids, when I deliver it that way — you just never know who could be someone special in your life if you're just judging them on physical appearance. That's the message that I'm trying to spread to kids and adults — don't judge so quick.
AV: Anything else you would like to say to people here in Estonia?
WS: I would just say to kids and adults — keep working on your purpose in life. Wake up every day, be motivated, give your all every day, and just seek what your purpose is.
That's the beauty of life to me — taking this journey and seeing what your gifts are, and locking those gifts in, and seeing what you're supposed to be, and why you're here. That's my main thing — have purpose in life.
AV: And that's international.
WS: International, that's right.
Born Anthony Parker, Wordsmith is a Baltimore-based musician and entrepreneur who produces hip-hop with a strong motivational message, according to a U.S. Embassy Tallinn press release and the artist's homepage.
While in Estonia, he and his band are making a point to engage with young people as well as encourage students to put an end to bullying.
Following concerts in Valga, Narva and Kiviõli, Wordsmith will give the final free, family-friendly concert of his tour at Kumu Auditorium in Tallinn on Thursday, May 23 at 7 p.m.
The Estonian leg of his regional tour is being supported by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, as well as local municipalities.
Editor: Aili Vahtla