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Breaking down barriers to educate youth one verse at a time

Myrlin Hepworth
May 29, 2013

“Music is something that can inform other people’s voices,” said Arizona State University alumnus Myrlin Hepworth, while sitting at a coffee shop in downtown Phoenix.

The idea is not something that he takes lightly, either. As a spoken-word artist, Hepworth dedicates his time to breaking down the barriers that misinform youth, one verse at a time. Now, the community is taking notice of the rising star.

Growing up in Idaho, Hepworth became enamored with artists such as Mos Def, The Roots, Common and Erykah Badu. His mother would also play a variety of music in his home. The result was a lasting impression from which Hepworth still draws from today.

For his latest project titled “The Funky Mixtape,” Hepworth reflects on music culture and artists like “Jelly Roll” Mortin and Frank Sinatra. He also talks about issues of race, class, gender and, of course, love.

In “A letter to Dave Chappelle,” a song he describes as the most interesting on the album, Hepworth speaks about the ignorance he witnessed in school of kids who missed the mark on Chappelle’s famous skit about a blind African American KKK member.

“Dave Chappelle’s black, white supremacist hit, kids in my class memorize the skit. Couldn’t interpret what Dave was trying to say. Ignorance is blind and so is hate. So they acting all KKK, running through the hallway all day yelling, 'Go back to your country, white power!' Stupid kids thinking racism was cool. Unaware that this Chappelle joke was aimed at you,” he says in a verse.  

As the co-founder of the slam poetry group Phonetic Spit, he works closely with youth both in the local community and throughout the nation. Hepworth’s goal is to teach them about the importance of being educated, having an outlet for their creative expression and overcoming fear.

“If a kid can break it down on the mic, they can break it down in the boardroom or in a classroom,” he said. “It’s important to inspire them to assess the world around them. If you can inspire a young person to use their voice to acknowledge their own pain and struggle, then you are giving them a tool to survive.”

Project Humanities at ASU has joined forces with Hepworth and is fundamental in efforts to send Phonetic Spit students to the Brave New Voices poetry competition and many local poetry slam events.

“Over the past two years, Project Humanities has enthusiastically partnered with Phonetic Spit during several campus and off-campus events where young high school word masters and apprentices demonstrated the power of language, of stories, of finding and sharing their vital voices on the notion of place, locally and globally – in Arizona, in the southwest, in this USA and on this planet,” said Neal Lester, associate vice president for humanities and arts in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, and director of Project Humanities.

In 2013 the Arizona Commission on the Arts awarded Hepworth with the Arizona Humanities Rising Star award for his community engagement.  The recognition has allowed him to connect with a broad range of activists and students looking to participate in the music scene.

“It is inspiring to work with people who care about social justice, education and improving the world at large,” he said. 

To learn more about Hepworth, visit