A week's work had wrapped on the teen radio show, Studio 4 All Access Top 4 Countdown, and among those listening to the playback at St. Paul's High School for Recording Arts was a kid cool enough to have not one but two nicknames.
"Mick Boulevard," the show's host, heard himself define the 4 in Studio 4 as "family, respect, community and education." Then, suddenly, he was spoofing his radio self, doubling up his lines by reciting them out loud, exaggerating his DJ delivery.
Those in the studio broke out in laughter.
School is back in session at the High School for Recording Arts, and Studio 4 All Access, a weekly show created for 96.3 Now, was back on the air Sunday, delivering serious messages -- STAY IN SCHOOL! LIVE GREEN! -- in pulsing hip-hop style.
This year, the school plans to use the show to tout a national campaign, 26 Seconds, that aims to reduce the high school dropout rate and for which its students, Mick Boulevard among them, contributed the song, "Take Control," No. 3 on Sunday's radio countdown.
Every 26 seconds, a high school student drops out, the campaign says. To give voice to it, State Farm Insurance Co., a sponsor, turned to the St. Paul charter school, which "takes students who've fallen through the cracks and turns them into high school graduates," program director Tony Simmons said last week.
The radio program, now in its eighth year, airs at 8:30 a.m. on Sundays, and is available in podcast form at www.studio4 allaccess.com
The music, written and performed by students, is smooth, for the most part, not much grit to it. But the lyrics to "Dropping Out," by LaShawn "Roxie" Williams and LaDawn "Ladie Lucc" Morris, No. 4 on the year's first countdown show, offer a topical message: "She could've been a lawyer, doctor or a cosmetologist / Instead she had a boyfriend who was all up in her head / He suggested she should drop out of school instead / So she did, yeah."
Simmons said 96.3 Now is seeking a show high on energy, in addition to social content, and that's what keeps the kids engaged: "With students who have dropped out, you really have to have that 'wow' moment," he said.
Back at it at the school -- tucked into an industrial area in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood -- are several students with feature roles in the 26 Seconds campaign.
Virgil Jackson, 17, also known as Mick Boulevard, or Mick, for short, dropped out of school in Madison, Wis., before moving to St. Paul. At the charter school, he wrote its current song-of-the-year, "Fly Away," and shot a video for it in which he moves in close to a young woman singing, "They say you're a 10 / But you're too fine to rate."
He does not seem to be the buckle-down type.
He erupted with laughter when a classmate, Marvin "Marvelous" Smith, 14, of Minneapolis, said he hoped through his music "to change lives." But when the conversation turned to Jackson, he allowed himself a serious moment, too, saying he often skipped school in Madison because "regular high school wasn't doing it for me."
"When I came here, everything changed," Jackson said. "Everything changed."
The 26 Seconds campaign is primarily a grass-roots effort, relying on word of mouth through conferences, some of which the recording-arts students have attended, as well as through social media. On Monday, it was "liked" by 3,014 subscribers on Facebook, where information is posted regularly and promotional posters are available for download.
Dominque "Dominoe" Farrar, 19, of Robbinsdale, has represented the group on national television. On CNN, he explained how he dropped out at one time to earn money to pay child support. He also wrote the chorus for "Take Control."
Looking ahead, Farrar hopes to attend Clark Atlanta University and to finish a song that he says will move away from hip-hop to a rock sound akin to the All-American Rejects.
The song is titled "Graduation."
Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5038