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T.I. teams up with teen musicians for live NPR concert

After putting in long hours, seven local teen musicians are seeing their hard work pay off in a big way: Atlanta rapper T.I. is taking them to Washington, D.C., to perform with him in a live concert on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series.

According to the Atlanta Music Project’s executive director, Dantes Rameau, the chance to perform with T.I. came together only a week before Thursday’s concert. AMP is a tuition-free music education opportunity for local children.

“That was jaw-dropping, really,” Rameau said. “I think it shows his commitment to the community in Atlanta. To give the kids a chance, it’s unbelievable.”

The teen musicians performing with T.I. are 14-year-olds Lailah Carter, violinist, and Brent Cameron, cellist; 16-year-old violinists Landon Isaiah Wilkins and Nehemiah Wiggins, violist Nyasjah Breshay Brooks, and trombonist Corey Lewis Jones Jr.; and 17-year-old violinist Ashley Sierra Gibson.

Students who will perform with the rapper T.I. at a July 12 event rehearse as they wait for him to arrive. T.I. later rehearsed with the local teen musicians from the Atlanta Music Project for a NPR Music live concert. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

The all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., was funded by Cricket Wireless, a subsidiary of AT&T. After Cricket Wireless began a partnership with AMP about a month ago, they communicated with T.I., who had the idea of including AMP musicians in his upcoming concert.

As part of AMP, children are provided with instruments as well as free music instruction, explained director of development Stephanie Shapiro. The project involves around 300 children during the school year, and depending on their age, they practice from three to four days a week after school for two to four hours.

For Shapiro, the power of music in children’s lives cannot be overrated. “It took these kids that were in their shell and gave them a voice, which is something we’re really proud of,” she commented.

The musicians’ first rehearsal of T.I.’s music happened Wednesday, only a day before the concert, and three parents were able to watch as their kids met and played with the hip-hop artist.

“Proud is an understatement,” said Joy Jones, Corey’s mother.

Corey Jones Jr., a student from Charles R. Drew Charter School, makes some notes on his music as he gets ready for rehearsal. He’s one of the teen musicians from the Atlanta Music Project who will perform with T.I. at a NPR Music live concert on July 12. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Nehemiah’s mother, Dena Wiggins, commented, “It was unbelievable, just to know that there’s a Grammy-winning artist that believes in our kids the way we do, when you think of all the artists he could have chosen to perform with him.”

Lailah’s mother, Vivian Roberts-Carter, echoed Wiggins’ thoughts. “It’s blowing my mind. They’re gonna be stars,” she said with a large smile.

After the musicians had begun rehearsing the songs they would play with T.I., “Rubberband Man,” “What You Know” and “Live Your Life,” T.I. walked into the studio carrying his 2-year-old daughter, Heiress Diana Harris.

RELATED: T.I. talks about ‘Ant-Man,’ his new BET TV show and music

“We’re gonna rock out,” he told the young musicians as he shook hands with each of them. He commended them for “tirelessly working and sacrificing” for their education, their skill and their art.

After hearing the musicians rehearsing, he later said, “I think they did a phenomenal, fantastic job.”

Nyasjah Brooks (right), from Carver Early College in Atlanta, gets a high-five from T.I. as he takes a break for some photos with the students who will perform with him at a July 12 event in Washington, D.C. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

For Landon, a 16-year-old violinist, hearing about the chance to perform with T.I. was shocking. “I was like, is this really going on?” he said.

He’s played the violin for years, but he said that growing up in Alabama, playing an instrument often meant “you were an outcast.” Despite that, Landon hopes to become an orchestra violinist and has even worked on composing his own music.

“Some of it wasn’t so good, but some of it was actually pretty good,” he said with a laugh. His commitment to his music hasn’t distracted him from schoolwork, either: Landon recently finished the tenth grade at Maynard H. Jackson High School with a 3.8 GPA and all A’s. He said that playing an instrument has taught him to be adaptive both in music and in life.

Rameau, who co-founded AMP in 2010, has seen the program grow from around 19 students to more than 300, and they’re working to expand the program even more after seeing its benefit in local neighborhoods.

“The kids that are in the AMP have become leaders in their own community,” he said. “The limitations that they may have thought they had growing up have now been blown out of the water.”

Lailah Carter, from Carver Early College in Atlanta, stands as students are greeted by T.I., holding his daughter, as he arrives for rehearsal Wednesday for a live concert. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

TO SEE THE CONCERT

Visit npr.org/series/tiny-desk-concerts or NPR Music’s YouTube channel to see T.I. perform with local teen musicians. The concert takes place at 1 p.m. July 12.

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