This critical ethnographic study examined the songwriting practices of youth participating in a facilitated 15-week community-based after-school songwriting class called The Verses Project in Midtown Detroit. This article explores (a) the ways in which youth used hip-hop to share their lived experiences in contrast to dominant discourses about their lives, (b) the nature of the stories they chose to tell with the music they created, and (c) the manner in which teaching artists and mentors supported youth in this work. I draw upon critical race theory as a theoretical framework specifically for its emphasis on “counterstories” that foreground the experiences of marginalized voices to speak back to dominant narratives.

Deficit perspectives often frame the public’s images of youth—particularly youth of color in urban areas. I argue that in The Verses Project, youth asserted the strengths of their identities and communities through music and provided profound counternarratives to dominant deficit discourses. The possibility of the production of these counternarratives provides significant motivation for offering such songwriting classes both inside and outside of school.

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