2007-05-23 / Front Page
With positive message, local rapper wins Essence contest
"God's Plan" takes home magazine's grand prize for songwriting
BY KATHY CHANG
"I've been writing songs since I was in sixth grade," said McGibbon. "I started seriously writing songs in ninth grade and have written over 200 songs so far."
McGibbon, a Woodbridge High School senior, was one of two grand-prize winners of the Essence magazine and Berklee College of Music Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest for songwriters between 15 and 18 years old.
"My mom [Tracey] is an avid Essence magazine reader and she told me about the contest," said McGibbon. "I actually wrote the song 'God's Plan' that I submitted into the contest a week before my mom told me about the contest. This is the first contest I entered, because it's usually hard to find contests for under 18 years old."
Essence magazine is the preeminent lifestyle magazine for African-American women. Published by Essence Communications Inc., it is the leading source of cutting-edge information relating to every area of African-American women's lives. For 27 years, Essence has celebrated personal achievement, chronicled social movement, documented struggles, showcased beauty, defined and set trends and illustrated the incredible journey of a resilient and splendid race.
McGibbon, who has lived in Keasbey since he was in the fifth grade, said he was excited when he found out that he was one of the grand prize winners for the contest.
"I usually never check my e-mail, maybe only once a month," he said.
"But I went on my e-mail to check something else and I saw that it said congratulations and I clicked on it. Now I check my e-mail every day."
McGibbon was one of five chosen out of 50 submissions by songwriters from all over the United States. Nicholas "Phantom" Garcia, 18, from Lodi was also a grand-prize winner for his submission, "Stupid." Jacob "Icee Jake" Bragg, 16, from Columbus, Ohio, won second place for his submission, "Lord Gave Me." Ronke "Young Roc" Owens, 17, from Detroit was first runner up for his submission, "Dedication" and Al "MC Premonition" Mask, 17, from Chapel Hill, N.C., was also a first runner up for his submission "Reility/Contradiction."
The contest, which is only two years old, was developed as an extension of Essence's Take Back the Music Campaign, which promotes balance in mainstream hip-hop's messages. Berklee College of Music, located in Boston, became involved to offer the winning songwriters educational opportunities that will help them take their talent to the next level.
"I heard a depth of perspective from some of these young writers that I didn't expect," said Prince Charles Alexander, Berklee professor of music production and engineering and a contest judge. "To be so young and so thoughtful was something I thought relegated to the era of their parents, and it pleased me to hear that our youth expect a lot of themselves and their generation. A complex world is breeding artists with complex thoughts and it is right on time."
The 50 submissions became 10 finalists after Berklee students and Essence employees held in-house listening sessions in Boston and New York. A final seven-person panel of hip-hop celebrity judges - Chuck D, Jean Grae and Spinderella - Berklee scholars - Professor Susan Kean Cattaneo [songwriting], Professor Danielle Scott [ensemble], and Professor Prince Charles Alexander; and Berklee student Ryan Williamson [contemporary writing and production], chose the winner. The judging was based on clever, innovative lyrics, as well as melody and composition.
McGibbon said the message behind his song "God's Plan" is "there is never a prediction on what is going on in life, but it is better to make the best of what life gives us and whatever God throws at us."
"I wrote my song for my family," said McGibbon. "It took me three days to write the song because it was personal and I didn't want to make a mistake. I wrote a verse a day and I had my close-knit of friends critique the song."
Andre Stephenson and Bobby Pracher, who have been friends with McGibbon since middle school said they are proud of their friend.
"He is very motivated and is determined from his heart and soul," said Pracher.
Stephenson said his friend's song "God's Plan" is about "true life" and "it's inspirational," added Pracher.
As a grand-prize winner, McGibbon has received a full scholarship - tuition and room and board - to the 2007 Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program at Berklee's Boston Campus from July 7 to Aug. 10.
Additionally, McGibbon, Garcia, and Bragg were invited by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to perform at the City of Boston's Peace 2007 Hip-Hop Festival on Aug. 4 in Boston's City Hall Plaza.
McGibbon has written over 200 hip-hop songs about love, the less fortunate and partying.
"I have a variety of songs," he said. "My songs are not just for people who like hip-hop music, but for everybody."
McGibbon's mother, Tracey, said she is proud of her son.
"Today's teenagers face many obstacles and Justin is no exception," she said. "Therefore, it is imperative that we, as parents, remain as involved as possible in our teen's lives, instill in them the importance of respect for self and others, and create an environment that fosters open and honest communication."
McGibbon, who said he admires the likes of rappers and producers Jay-Z, Pharrell, Eminem, Kanye West and Dr. Dre, said ultimately he would like to produce songs for singers.
"There's not a lot of positive music out there," he said. "That's why I hope my generation can get out there and put out more positive music."
McGibbon said after he graduates from Woodbridge High School in June, he would either attend the Berklee College of Music or the Institute of Audio Research in New York City in the fall.
For more information about Essence Magazine visit www.essence.com or the Berklee College of Music visit www.berklee.edu.