If you look closely in the 2002 video for Public Enemy's "Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need," you'll see a 13-year-old Jesse Winfrey playing the background. He was hanging in Roxbury's Funky Fresh Records when front man Chuck D entered the Dudley Square landmark with a cameraman in tow.
Winfrey, who now performs as Catch Wreck, has remained tight with his anti-establishment heroes, and opened for Public Enemy two weeks ago at the House of Blues. Chuck D knows what's up; along with his other Young Gifted and Black (YGB) counterparts, Winfrey is leading a revolutionary and enlightened rhyme movement in Boston.
Launched in 2007 by Dorchester native and community soldier Vernon C. Robinson, YGB has evolved from a series of events into a collective of socio-politically astute MCs, poets, and singers. As a whole, they don't endorse drug dealing, gun toting, or ill-gotten gains. As individuals, some participants — including Winfrey and spoken-word prodigy Sofia Snow — push further, fighting the power on such issues as police brutality and CORI reform.
"There's no buffoonery at my events," says Robinson. "I don't need to tell them what to write about, because the youth that I'm dealing with knows what's going on. They're leaders with a higher consciousness than most of their peers."
In the "each one teach one" tradition, Winfrey and other movement veterans are paying lessons forward by recruiting young new talent. Since it was built without a dime of outside funding, YGB might not be on the radar of philanthropists or politicians. But with Catch Wreck and his brethren expanding their positive base, it may be time to take notice.
"Deval Patrick should be paying a lot of attention to this," says Jamarhl Crawford, an outspoken Boston activist and Winfrey's mentor since Chuck D introduced them at a Public Enemy show in 2002. "We've spoken with [political leaders] about getting funding to help [YGB] grow in the future, but if you look at what's been going on in the streets, it clear that something needs to happen right now."
Winfrey, who recently dropped a mixtape dubbed The Young & The Restless, rocks the eighth biennial YGB showcase at OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center in Egleston Square this Saturday. YGB expects 200 attendees this time around.
"For the most part it's not cool or mainstream to be an activist," says Winfrey, "and with our music and movement we're trying to promote responsibility and make it cool."