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The Real Clash hip-hop group gets real about domestic violence

You don't have to take this

You say he's going to change, but I got news for you

You're caught in his matrix

You can't tell between make believe and the truth

When Rashad Harrell wrote those lyrics eight years ago, a close friend was living the nightmare of domestic violence.

Harrell watched helplessly as his friend's boyfriend abused her and isolated her from her family and friends. His talks encouraging her to leave the boyfriend fell on deaf ears.

"I felt like, 'Wow, if only she knew her worth,' " he said.

Unable to reach his friend, Harrell did the next best thing he knew: express the painful experiences of his friend living with a batterer and his having to watch from the sidelines in a song, Sign Language.

Today, Harrell's friend is alive and well, and no longer in an abusive relationship. But domestic violence continues to be a national epidemic impacting every race, gender and socioeconomic class.

With October serving as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Harrell and his group, the Real Clash, will perform Sign Language during the WFTS-Ch. 28 seventh annual "Taking Action Against Domestic Violence" broadcast on Thursday.

"I don't even like hip-hop and I'm totally in love with this group and what they're doing," said Lissette Campos, WFTS director of community affairs. "They write songs to empower women — to hold up healthy relationships instead of romanticizing the dysfunctional ones."

• • •

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds in the United States and on average nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. And one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime, the organization says.

For some, it may seem odd for a hip-hop group to take up such a serious cause. But the Real Clash is not the typical hip-hop band.

Formed three years ago while members were taking a class in St. Petersburg College's Music Industry Recording Arts Program, the group consists of seven members who all play their own instruments. The group quickly developed a strong local and regional fan base after its founding, and has opened for fellow hip-hop artists Method Man and Redman, and played at Gasparilla. Its first full-length album, Clash Wednesday, is set to debut this month.

• • •

The description "hip-hop band" may be a misnomer as the group blends old school funk, soul, R&B, jazz and pop.

The group's foremost mission is to make good music. But along the way, it's changing the preconceived notions of what hip-hop means and what it sounds like, said Harrell, the band's chief lyricist.

"I can't tell you how many times people come up to us and say, 'I didn't like hip-hop, but I like your music,' " he said.

When Harrell approached the group about recording Sign Language, band members were immediately on board, said founder and drummer Jay Wilson.

"Everybody in our group has a humbling experience that's made them socially conscious," he said.

• • •

The band recently performed Sign Language at a community event at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg as part of WFTS's campaign

For keyboardist Jordan Walker, the song made him more aware of how domestic violence also hurts friends and family of the victim.

"First time I heard (the lyrics), it opened my eyes to that situation," he said. "Seeing that point of view was easy."

The song especially is for those who have tried to express their concern to victims of domestic violence only to be shut down or ignored. Harrell said a message that can't be communicated in conversation often gets through via music.

"It's not only a good song, it's radio-worthy," he said. "It may make you feel uncomfortable, but it will make you think."

The goal of Sign Language is to "give hope" to domestic violence victims and their loved ones, Wilson said.

"(The song should) make them aware that there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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