FLINT, Michigan — Twenty five years ago, the Dayton Family released “Flint Town.” Since, it has become an iconic anthem for the city and perfectly encapsulates the prideful, defiant, gritty, resilient traits Flint’s people are known for.
During his verse on Flint Town, Ira “Bootleg” Dorsey raps, “My city’s being ------ by your system, that’s evident.” Today, as resources in the city have continued to dwindle, Dorsey is still using his voice to call out inequities for Flint residents. He’s also doing something about it, providing his own avenues for young people to find their own artistic outlets and create the next defining piece of Flint art.
“Flint raised me,” Dorsey said, as part of an interview for the Flint Voices documentary produced by Flintside and Flint Beat
. “Flint was the first city to support me musically. Flint was the foundation I built my whole life and career on. I would never turn my back on Flint. I got a message to give, so I like to share the message I got with younger people to help them avoid the potholes I fell in.”
Dorsey, along with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, is hosting a talent show called, “Flint’s Youth Got Talent,” on March 29 at The New McCree Theatre. The intent is simple: provide a platform to showcase the diverse talents of kids in the city, something Dorsey said was more available when he was growing up.
“There were so many talent shows I attended that kind of sparked my career,” Dorsey said. “Seeing guys at Flint Academy, and Merrill talent show, and Southwestern, it was just all talent shows when I was growing up and that’s missing now. A lot of kids have never experienced that, so I want to bring all the different sides of town, all the different gang associates, I want to bring everybody together and see that there’s a lot of talent.”
The goal is also to give families a chance to get acquainted while celebrating and taking pride in the talents of the city’s children.
“I want to give the parents something to get behind,” Dorsey said. “If we get the parents to meet each other, it can solve a whole lot of issues. There can be a whole lot of intervention.”
As opportunities for kids to participate in positive activities have shrunk over the years, so have opportunities for the city’s residents to get to know each other. Dorsey noted that, while he was growing up, the city’s population was larger, but people across Flint all still knew each other and knew each other’s families.
“Back in the 90s, if I knew you and you were a good person, you were my family. I wish that vibe could come back to Flint,” he said. “Kids don’t understand that people in my generation, we all know each other. So I see young people today and I know they aunts, they uncles, and it’s that way with a lot of the older people. The first thing I ask younger people is, ‘Who is your mother? Who is your father? I grew up with your mother, your father, we used to hang out.’ Flint is small, so even if you’re not related, you know someone who knows someone.”
Dorsey is also using music and art as a teaching tool as part of a weekly program he’s doing with students at Flint Southwestern Academy. In particular, he’s trying to help improve the city’s literacy rate — using hip hop as an avenue to start dialogues get students thinking about other creative outlets or sources of information.
“We look at social, economic, and political issues by using music and art to build a conversation,” Dorsey said. “Usually when I incorporate music into the conversation, they open up more. The conversation flows easy when they can incorporate rap into it. It’s been successful. We’re building on it.”
Although Dorsey has love for his hometown that fuels his desire to give back, he’s steadfast in his belief that there is insufficient investment in resources for students in Flint.
“We don’t invest in young people and education enough,” he said. “I was talking to students at Southwestern, and they don’t even have language classes like French and Spanish. They don’t put money into band. The investment here in public education is terrible. Our kids, the resources to fund things for them to do in Flint is very limited.”
Dorsey’s own path to finding both a creative outlet and, eventually, a career happened because of his exposure to art and music. He was drawn to the culture and style of rap and hip hop, then he met fellow Dayton Family member Raheen Peterson, who was involved in a recording studio. He started learning about the process of creating music professionally, and eventually he began to see it as more than just a hobby.
“I started doing music initially just for my neighborhood, just for the guys I hung out with. I never saw a career in it back then,” Dorsey said. “Raheen Peterson was already involved in the studio and knew how to write music and structure it and when he started coming around, that’s when I began getting serious about it.”
Dorsey’s career in music has spanned nearly three decades. The Dayton Family has released seven studio albums and Dorsey has released seven solo albums. The group has worked with many well-known musicians, including The Game, Three 6 Mafia, MC Breed, C-Murder, and Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound.
“Making music gives me energy, it’s been keeping me alive these 40 some years,” Dorsey said. “It gave me something to devote myself to. I’ve been to all 50 states because of music. For an inner city black man, that’s a rare thing to have happen. I’ve traveled all over the country because of music, I’ve seen everything, been everywhere, done everything all on the back of music.”
Dorsey firmly believes that the talent still exists in Flint to create paths from artistic pursuits directly into careers for Flint kids. It just takes investment and imagination.
“I would love to see the powers that be invest in the arts here,” Dorsey said. “I believe arts can be a vehicle to guide people out of poverty. They can give them a way to structure all that energy. Young people are packed with energy, and if you don’t give them an outlet for it, they’ll devote it in negative ways. The arts can help mold the creative side of you and take you places you could’ve never imagined. … It would be wonderful to see (Flint kids) soar on the wings of art and culture and hip hop.”
"Flint’s Youth Got Talent" is 7 p.m. March 29, 2019, at The New McCree Theatre, located at 2040 W. Carpenter Road. The three-hour show will feature young people from the age of 5 to 19. For more information, visit the City of Flint’s website