I recently spoke with Dr. WIlliam Patterson to discuss his latest project, the Hip-Hop Xpress Double Dutch Boom Bus.
This bus is a portable music studio that will be travelling across the country. As Dr. Patterson puts it, the main goals of the project are “to revisit historical legacies of the Black music experience” and to have “every generation see themselves in it.” Double Dutch Boom Bus is the third vehicle that Dr. Patterson has transformed, and all three are part of a research initiative called “N Search of Hip-Hop”. The one that is currently being built is made out of an old school bus.
When asked about the genesis of naming the bus, and where ideas for the design concept originated, Dr. Patterson stated:
[The name of the bus] is modeled after a song called, “The Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith. He was an artist from the 80’s, during my era. Growing up in the middle of high school, or junior high, he just had an incredible song, and so we just called it the Hip-Hop Xpress Double Dutch Boom Bus.
So it has a historical legacy of tying all those pieces together in a current motif. We’ve had young people from Champaign-Urbana and the Boyz2Men program working with us to build or design the new concept of the Double Dutch Boom Bus. The name “Boom Bus” came from one of the young men, a fourth grader. We took him through the whole engineering design cycle, and he came up with an amazing piece and so that was the inspiration of how we got to the current vehicle we have now.
Patterson also talked about the equipment that will be used for making music and recording. With the help of students from the University of Illinois, the bus will be built to have three sound systems, DJing equipment, recording capabilities, and much more. Along with having the necessary equipment for making and recording music, Patterson said “The bus itself is like a music instrument. Some of the furniture on the bus will actually be active in terms of being a digital musical instrument. So, if you were to touch the seat, it would activate as a sound pad.” It will definitely have a good speaker system, because, as Patterson enthuses, “It’s the Boom Bus, you’ve gotta hear it coming.”
Patterson’s own musical background, as well as artists who have influenced him throughout his life, played a key role in this project’s creation. He has been a DJ since the 1980’s, as well as a radio broadcaster, so the production of music is nothing new to him. One of the biggest influences for him was Ernie Westfield, aka “Mister E”, who had a radio show on WLRW in the 1970’s. He reminisced that “back then, you could only get Black music on the radio one day a week, and that was on Sunday nights… it’s very interesting when you live in a community where everybody is playing the same thing at the same time… I called it ‘growing up in stereo,’ because the music is in the air. It’s like the soundtrack of your life.”
DJ Disco Rat was another influence for Dr. Patterson, who lived in Champaign in the 1980’s, and Jam Master Jay of Run DMC. The late Jam Master Jay was especially influential — he and Patterson would be the same age and, as Dr. Patterson expressed, “When Run DMC and Hip-Hop started, I could see myself in Jam Master Jay. They were travelling around the world and DJing and building community, and doing it in their own style.”
Although the bus hasn’t been completed yet, Dr. Patterson and the others who are working with him are getting ready to install a PA sound system, so that they can drive the bus around and play music over the speakers to introduce it to communities.
Once the bus is completed, it will begin its journey on the What’s Going On? Tour, named after Marvin Gaye’s song. Using the bus to build a relationship between older music and events and culture today is something that he spoke about: “What would it look like if Hip-Hop generationers today were to actually develop a track that is inspired by Marvin Gaye and Motown’s work to help tell today’s story? And so we’ve been doing that.” So far, the Hip-Hop Xpress Double Dutch Boom Bus has worked with seven artists, recording their work for this track.
The What’s Going On? Tour will first be revisiting places that Dr. Patterson has relations with through the Hip-Hop Xpress Project. In Illinois, The House of Miles in East St. Louis; several youth organizations in Chicago; as well as several organizations in Springfield; in Ohio, The Funk Center in Dayton. After the initial tour, the plan is to go national with the bus, with trips to Houston, Chicago, Washington D.C., and New Orleans.
As a preview, check out What’s Goin On? A Virtual Celebration, in partnership with Hip Hop XPress, The Canopy Club, and many more this weekend, July 11-12.