They meet, like many early greats, in a suite. Clusters of polaroids and tapestries hang over a motley crew of couches. The air is seasoned with old fabrics and herbs in all the quintessential glory of a residence hall.
The 5C Hip-Hop Club meets here on Fridays to pursue their love of Hip-Hop. It’s a creative zone where students can show off their newest beats and rhymes. It’s a club to the outside world, but to members, it’s just Hip-Hop enthusiasts hanging out.
“It’s a fraternity—5Cs would all gather [for the Hip-Hop Club],” Deonte Baker CM ’11 said. “These were students who were pursuing their self expression. [The club is] more like a culture. Rap is artistry in its purest form [and] gives some people something to think about.”
In the past, the Hip-Hop Club has hosted local Hip-Hop performers and served as a party alternative to the members. While the club has changed and evolved over the years, it continues to provide a space and opportunity to students interested in the craft.
“The Hip-Hop Club is pretty old,” club member Alexa Campbell PZ ’15 said. “Even when you weren’t [in a meeting], it was always happening.”
One of the club’s most committed members and president, Alex Fraknoi PZ ’16, simply called “Frak,” released his album, Bagels, in August 2014. According to club members, Frak is a true rap enthusiast.
“He writes for rap genius [and] researches everything,” Campbell said. “He watches rap all day, everyday, and falls asleep to rap battles. He just knows so much [and] he’s just good at bringing people together.”
Baker added that Frak brought a fresh enthusiasm to the club’s atmosphere.
“His energy was different. He would come through every Friday with donuts and water and it was crazy, the type of energy it was bringing … people vibed with it,” Baker said.
True to the title, Bagels is presented in a baker’s dozen—13 songs—representing a range of styles and flavors.
“I was raised Jewish,” Frak said. “Not very religious, but in Jewish culture, and I was a huge fan of bagels growing up. They just make me feel at home. But the actual concept behind it was that this mixtape is trying to show a range of styles.”
The ideas for Frak’s album went through a long process of development during the Hip-Hop Club’s rhyme sessions.
“Sitting in Hip Hop Club is all this fluid creativity right in front of you,” Frak said. “Freestyle rap is something that stirs the consciousness. If you’re very tuned into your subconscious while trying to rhyme, you tap into things. A lot of the ideas [for Bagels] came from little lines I said in Hip Hop Club and the music came from Hip Hop Club producers.”
The album is largely informed by Frak’s freestyling in the Hip-Hop Club and experiences he has had around the 5Cs. “Date with a Feminist,” arguably his most popular track, is a two-part story of an encounter with a girl one night and the dialogue of brunch the morning after, based on Frak’s experiences in college hookup culture.
Frak also incorporated many of his studies and classes into his album. He was inspired by poetry and creative writing, and has created music videos in his media studies classes.
The biggest impact, though, comes through in his song “Cardiac Arrest,” which began as the final paper for a class called Hip-Hop and Incarceration. Here, Frak went to juvenile hall to give Hip-Hop lessons to the kids while learning about the incarceration system and its ties to the genre. The song still stands as one of his favorites from the album.
Bagels has been well-received by listeners, particularly through sharing and social media. SF Weekly featured Bagels in a list of top local Hip-Hop albums of 2014. Frak’s work blew up on Reddit and his music video “Candyman” was featured on Upworthy, as it benefited a diabetes organization that works through spoken word and Hip-Hop.
According to Backer, much of Frak’s style revolves around the act of story telling: “He has a really good ability of taking concepts and turning them into these elaborate mini stories. Things that you might think about on a daily basis.”
Bagels is the cumulation of Frak’s experiences as a 5C student and his appreciation for Hip-Hop.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of music and a huge fan of words and wordplay,” said Frak. “I’ve always thought Hip-Hop was the most seamless combination of the two. It’s a form of poetry as much as it is a form of music.”