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Hackathon hooks into hip-hop: Using coding to create a beat

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 4/4/2019 By William Wittek, iGeneration Youth
Zakir Khan standing in front of a television: William Wittek, 10, and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Information Systems students Aditya and Jyotsna present their song made using Python MC to Hip Hop Hackathon judges at the first-ever TripTech event sponsored by CMU in collaboration with Google. © Erica Dilcer/Carnegie Mellon Uni/iGeneration Youth/TNS William Wittek, 10, and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Information Systems students Aditya and Jyotsna present their song made using Python MC to Hip Hop Hackathon judges at the first-ever TripTech event sponsored by CMU in collaboration with Google.

PITTSBURGH — TripTech at Google Pittsburgh was an awesome event — all about technology, hip-hop and culture. Professors from Carnegie Mellon University and programmers from Google organized the event.

All sorts of different people came together to learn about coding, hip-hop, and education: professors, programmers from Google, high school and university students, rappers, artists, and community organizers. At 10 years old, I was the youngest one there, until my younger sister Lily Wittek, 7, showed up.

It was the first time I had ever been to the Google offices in Pittsburgh. I was surprised to see a shower in the bathroom. In the main room where we were hanging out, there was a green Android costume, and I got to try it on. Outside the room, there was computer code printed on the walls.

a person standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera: William Wittek, 10, and Carnegie Mellon University Information Systems students Aditya and Jyotsna present the song they made using Python MC at Hip Hop Hackathon to judges, including Richard Achee, a programmer from Google NYC. © Erica Dilcer/Carnegie Mellon Uni/iGeneration Youth/TNS William Wittek, 10, and Carnegie Mellon University Information Systems students Aditya and Jyotsna present the song they made using Python MC at Hip Hop Hackathon to judges, including Richard Achee, a programmer from Google NYC.

I went to the event because my dad, a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, was one of the organizers. Plus, I’m really into music.

The day started with a lecture from Manny Faces, a rapper from New Jersey. He is the founder of The Center for Hip-Hop Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that teaches people about hip-hop through journalism, research, and public outreach. Faces talked about the connection between hip-hop and hacking. He told us that hip-hop artists and hackers are similar because they both use technology in creative ways.

a group of people sitting at a table: William Wittek, 10, and Carnegie Mellon University Information Systems students Aditya and Jyotsna prepare to present the song they made using Python MC at Hip Hop Hackathon to judges, including Richard Achee, a programmer from Google NYC. © Erica Dilcer/Carnegie Mellon Uni/iGeneration Youth/TNS William Wittek, 10, and Carnegie Mellon University Information Systems students Aditya and Jyotsna prepare to present the song they made using Python MC at Hip Hop Hackathon to judges, including Richard Achee, a programmer from Google NYC.

“Hip-hop has always been a culture of hacking,” Faces said. “Taking things and using them in new, unexpected ways, or figuring out a way into a system that normally was closed off, or solving a problem with creativity and youthful energy.”

In hip-hop’s early days, for example, DJs would throw parties in public parks, said Faces. “Because there were no electrical outlets available, they figured out how to tap into the electricity that powered the street lamps and used that to power their music equipment and speakers.”

Early DJs also had to re-engineer equipment to be able to play music “back and forth” on multiple turntables, he said.

Next up was a performance by Chenits Pettigrew and John Robinson, two MC’s from codeSCTY (pronounced Code Society). Codescty is an education outreach program that uses hip-hop to teach the basics of computer science, such as decomposition and pattern recognition. That may not sound exciting on paper, but if you heard them, you would be blown away. They sounded a little bit like A Tribe Called Quest or Common. The music was mellow and cool. They rapped over beats they made themselves. It was like a real concert. Pettigrew described his approach as “Schoolhouse Rock for computer science.”

While his sister looks on, William Wittek, 10, tries on a green Android costume at a Hip Hop Hackathon at the first-ever TripTech event sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with Google. © Erica Dilcer/Carnegie Mellon Uni/iGeneration Youth/TNS While his sister looks on, William Wittek, 10, tries on a green Android costume at a Hip Hop Hackathon at the first-ever TripTech event sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with Google.

Near the middle of the day, Richard Achee, a programmer from Google NYC, led a hacking workshop. Hacking means using computer coding creatively to solve a problem or to make something. (I’m not talking about the illegal type of computer hacking, of course.)

Richard taught us about Python MC, a program that can be used to make beats. While you are making music, you also learn how to code. I had done a little bit of coding before using a program called Scratch, which visualizes computer code as blocks that can fit together in different ways. It is easy, but not as fun as Python MC, which is more my style.

The final event of the day was a hackathon. A hackathon is an event where coders get together to code competitively. The purpose of this hackathon was to explore the connection between coding and beat making. There was a $500 prize for the best team, a $300 prize for the second-best team, and a $150 prize for the best individual. Each group had about two hours to code a song. A panel of judges decided which song was the best.

We divided into five groups. I was in a group with Aditya and Jyotsna, two Information Systems students from Carnegie Mellon University.

Each group had to create a song using Python MC. We worked for two hours. There were a few bumps along the way as we tried to figure out how to make our song sound cool using code in Python MC. Our first challenge was to figure out how to make a drop in our beat (a drop is when the beat stops for a moment and then explodes, like in Dubstep). Working together, we eventually managed to create a masterpiece. I was really proud of our song.

At the end of the day, each group played their song for the judges. The judges scored the songs according to coding, creativity and overall presentation. My team won second place. I was so excited and proud.

TripTech taught me that coding can be fun and cool. I am going to use Python MC to make some fresh beats of my own. What a great day!

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ABOUT THE WRITER

William Wittek, 10, is an iGeneration Youth reporter living in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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Follow iGeneration Youth @igyglobal on Twitter.

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©2019 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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