UConn students use hip hop for a great cause

At the University of Connecticut on Saturday, students used the power of music to help bring the gift of clean drinking water to a village thousands of miles away in honor of a fallen friend.

In 2013, UConn student Jesse “Jay R” Richeeds died in his dorm room from an asthma attack. He was studying pharmacy, and it had always been his dream to provide a village in Ghana with a water well to help create a healthier community.

To honor him, Good Year Quality, an on-campus service organization to which Richeeds belonged, hosted a Hip Hop Showcase on Saturday at the Student Union Theatre as part of a fundraising campaign to build the well.

“I love hip hop, and I’m very connected to the genre,” said Riffat Matin, director of marketing at Good Year Quality and one of the event’s main organizers. “A lot of people have a negative view of it, but I wanted to take the thing I love to use it for something good as well as put it into a new light.”

In addition to this, Richeeds was also active in the hip-hop community. When rapper Wale performed at UConn, he was the opening act. Performer Alyssa Hughes remembered how he had supported her own hip-hop aspirations.

“He supported me even when I told him I was only performing at Late Night  , while he was opening for Wale,” she said.

Good Year Quality, according to president Isaiah Mohammed, mentors and tutors students in Hartford, Willimantic and other local communities to prepare them for college and the profesional world.

With help from the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity where Richeeds was a brother, they are hoping to raise $2,000 by December 1 for the actual building of the well, which will be constructed with the support of the Christian Broadcasting Network. So far, they have about $1,200.  By February 1, they want to raise an additional $6,000 to cover the costs for three members to travel to Ghana. They will continue to raise money by selling #CleanWater4Ghana wristbands and through their GoFundMe page.

The event, which was hosted and DJed by UConn alum Justis Lopez, was a way for budding artists to showcase their talents and spread messages they believed in as well. Lopez started the show by instructing the audience to maintain a “safe place” atmosphere for all the performers.

The event started off with a group of several different performers including Brett Steinberg and Julian Yuliawan combining to form the impromptu group, “The Scruffs.” The group added a rock feel to hip hop songs such as “Power” by Kanye West, and “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars, in which group member Jay added in his own original verse about the right to clean water (which also included a dig on UConn Parking Services.

The UConn Breakdancing Team gave a performance, with a guest appearance by UConn’s mascot, Jonathan the Husky, who displayed a surprising amount of skill.


Hughes and other members of rap and hip-hop group We The Religion also performed. The group, who says they want to use their talents “to improve the world,” brought up many social issues such as race and police brutality in their performances. They got the whole audience involved with a lively song criticizing the university’s recent tuition raise.

The event ended with a much anticipated cypher, in which various performers and audience members took turns rapping over the same beat.

Those wishing to donate to Good Year Quality’s clean water project can visit their Go Fund Me page for more information.