Superlist: Youth record labels

Pub date March 26, 2008
WriterJamilah King


Youth record labels are fast becoming one of the most innovative and effective ways to combine job development, skills training, and music production for many working-class youth of color. At these programs, there are no holier-than-thou "back when I was a kid" lectures from out-of-touch old fogies. Instead, kids study DJ’ing under DJ Quest and get stage-presence tips from Zion I. Teens also take an active role in the creation, production, and management of their projects and think about their work as something larger than simply entertainment. From beat-making classes to benefit concerts for immigrant rights, young folks are helping lead the cry for transformation at every level of society — all to an intricately produced soundtrack. What follows are the heavy-hitting youth record labels in the Bay.

The DJ Project (440 Potrero, SF; 415-487-6700, is a youth entrepreneurship program built on the foundations of hip-hop and community empowerment. As part of Horizons Unlimited, the DJ Project offers classes in DJ’ing, music production, and promotions taught by some of the Bay’s finest independent hip-hop artists. Aside from simply making hip-hop, young artists discuss how such forces as racism, love, homophobia, and anger inform their lyrics. After they record their first CD, the students learn graphic design skills in order to create their own cover art. Recently, the project produced the film Grind & Glory (2007), which showcased local young hip-hop artists competing for a chance to play at the annual hip-hop festival Rock the Bells.

Youth Movement Records (368 24th St., Oakl.; 510-832-4212, is one of the more popular youth record labels around. Their program offers classes such as music production and entertainment law and boasts a stellar success rate, with over 90 percent of its graduates earning their high school diplomas. Already, YMR acts have toured the country in support of Amnesty International. The program features tutelage from folks such as Zion I and Brotha Los of Company of Prophets.

Bay Unity Music Project (BUMP) Records (1611 Telegraph, Oakl.; 510-836-1056,, a Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) program, is a youth-run record label that gives its participants hands-on experience with music making. BUMP Beats is an introductory music production and composition program geared toward youth with little or no previous experience. Students get the opportunity to perform and distribute their work with local Bay Area promoters.

Cov Records (220 Harrison, Oakl.; 510-625-7800, is a community-based music and production center serving young adults in Oakland between the ages of 13 and 25. As a project of the Covenant House community center and homeless shelter, Cov Records has produced documentaries, offered classes in video and music production, and teamed up with the Stop the Violence campaign to organize Turf Unity shows, which get young folks from rival neighborhoods to create art together.