Reflections on the Working Artists Lab with Grandmaster Flash

Published December 13, 2021

Grandmaster Flash with UB Students.

Grandmaster Flash with UB Students

For two months this fall, students from the University at Buffalo, Buffalo State College, and city community artists took part in “Hip-Hop University,” a crash course on the history and legacy of one of the greatest American art movements of the last fifty years. This creative arts residency, the most recent of the UB Arts Collaboratory’s Working Artists Labs, was led by rap music pioneer Grandmaster Flash, a Bronx native universally recognized as one of the genre’s originators and innovators.

The Fall 2021 Working Artists Lab exposed students and the larger Buffalo community to various legendary hip-hop artists and curators, including Rahiem, Carlo McCormick, and Charlie Ahearn, plus some of the biggest names on the Buffalo hip hop scene, including DJ Optimus Prime, Derrick Jackson, and ToneyBoi. Following a unique curriculum developed by the UB Arts Collaboratory and Grandmaster Flash, these luminaries shared their knowledge and experience with UB students through workshops, discussions, demonstrations and more.

Professor Maria S. Horne.

Professor Maria S. Horne

As part of the UB Theatre and Dance (THD) Theatre Studio Ensemble production, directed by Associate Professor Maria S. Horne, students created work with Grandmaster Flash for the duration of the project, an experience that participants and collaborators alike have called inspirational and life-changing. The production entailed 200 hours of directed lab work and culminated with the creation of a 45-minute film that utilizes various mediums, including storytelling, art and performance.  “Why Does the Sound Come Out of the Box,” a docu-performance, can be viewed in its entirety on the UB Arts Collaboratory YouTube channel and below.

This is the third collaboration between the Department and the UB Arts Collaboratory, including residencies with comedy writer Alan Zweibel and musical artist Michael Mwenso. These projects are co-sponsored by THD’s International Artistic and Cultural Exchange (IACE) program, founded and directed by Professor Horne, since 1994.

Sydné Jackson.

Sydné Jackson

“IACE is proud to partner with the UB Arts Collaboratory, to advance our mission to foster the talents of our faculty and student-artists through experiential learning—both inside the lab and outside—and to collaboratively create these truly remarkable interdisciplinary artistic and scholarly collaborations,” said Professor Horne.

As part of Professor Horne’s class students prepared self-reflections about their experiences. Theatre and Dance student Sydné Jackson wrote, “I have come out of this project with a deeper appreciation of hip-hop and a better understanding of the community it has created. I’ve always been a curious person about everything but this has influenced me to really search for the why and how for everything outside of my house and not just on the computer.”

Tioga Simpson.

Tioga Simpson

Tioga Simpson was similarly moved. “I do not think I have grown this much this quickly since I was a little kid,” she wrote. “Every part of this is about growth for me. I am proud of my work and I am proud of the final product, but I am more excited about the work that I have done on Me during this time.”



Lyons added, “The project and its effects on me have given me a lot to continue to think about and work from… I also have a firmer sense of what I need as an artist to thrive and be uplifted, in a way that is deeply fulfilling. I look forward to pursuing and creating spaces for this kind of work in the future.”

To see more student reflections, portraits, and information about the project visit: