Renowned for producing numerous chart topping hits for hip-hop’s most successful artists including T.I, Jay Z, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, R Kelly and others, Kevin “Khao” Cates has stepped outside of the industry, applied his musical genius and donated $1 million of his personal finances to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Cates is the founder of Bridge Da Gap (BDG), a 501c3 non-profit organization designed to address the social and emotional needs of inner-city and disadvantaged youth. Recognizing that many schools nationwide were failing and that teachers lacked the training and resources to address the unique needs of underprivileged students, he wanted to do something about it. BDG’s advisory board reads like a who’s who list. It includes Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation; pro football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, and renowned scholar Dr. Ben Carson.
The Koolriculum, incorporates technology, hip-hop music and a scholastic program that meets all general U.S. academic standards. Cates returned to the studio to produce more than 600 songs that tie into various subjects within mathematics, science, social studies and English. Lesson plans are completely customizable and teachers can select playlists to coincide with their daily agendas. Students are able access these customized assignments at home on their computers, cell phones and tablets.
His trailblazing educational curriculums, Bridge Da Gap and Koolriculum, are catching national attention from schools and educators seeking to more effectively engage and teach today’s children who often fall through the cracks.
Actress Meagan Good and other notable names in business, education and entertainment are on board supporting the Bridge Da Gap mission. Khao puts on concerts for the community.
Cates has plans to do a 20-city tour next year and will host trainings for schools, churches and community organizations.
How did you gain your skills in engineering?
It was natural for me. I gained my skills from teaching myself music theory, I would listen to all different kinds of music. Before I produced my first beat, I had all of my equipment, but I spent eight weeks, eight hours every day studying music before I even touched the machine. I studied all genres from Classical and Jazz to Rock, and I would listen to the texture and the breakdown of every instrument. That is what helped me when it came to mixing because I knew how I wanted it to come across. I knew the texture of the particular song. Then I just had to figure it out on the boards to get the feel I was going for.
What skill sets does a person need to reach the type of success he had when he was working with platinum artists?
You need to be able to produce actually, not just make beats. Study the artists. I had to learn who an artist was, see where he wanted to go and take it to another level. You have to enhance what they are already doing. It is bigger than just doing the music. It is literally like you are a doctor and a patient is coming in and saying I am sick. It is your job to figure it all out, do the diagnostics, see where they are, where they need to be and make the right prescription for them. Some artists are really trying to get on the right track. If they are around a bunch of yes men when they are looking to grow, they need someone to pull the best out of them and encourage them to try new things.
How does technology play a role in a person’s success?
Nowadays technology plays a major role in a person’s success because everything is so digitized. For example, the producers before us, like at Motown, they had to do everything live and if they messed up they had to do another take. Now, we have our MPCs (Media Production Centers) and SP- 1200’s and then everything can be done on the computer. You have scenarios where people don’t even have to learn the keys anymore, they can just transpose it.
With that being said, technology is making sounds bigger. Bigger sounds mixed with the latest technology plays a major part in enhancing the overall quality.
If you had to do it all over again, what three things would you do differently?
I can’t really list three things. I just think I would have been a little more conscious of my circle and the people I had a around me. I wouldn’t trade my experiences because they made me who I am now, but I spent a lot of money and invested a lot in people who were never fully in my corner.
If there was one thing in the world you could change, what would it be?
It would be the ability for people to look at things not just from the physical, but from the spiritual realm as well. I feel like a lot of the things we do out of anger is because our patience was tested and we don’t take a second to think. Instead, we blame people for our downfalls and other things, when really we you look at it from a spiritual realm, we realize that no one is perfect and everyone has their obstacles. If people had a little more of that, there would be a lot less of a what is going on in our world now. People need to know that sometimes you are being tested in an area you need to grow in.
What are your thoughts regarding the Computer Science for All initiative and the $100 Million Tech Opportunity Fund announcement on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016?
I think they are well needed, because if we are not up to speed with computers and technology, we are not advancing ourselves. We can’t just be the people that use it but don’t a hand in creating. It will make us obsolete if we don’t get on the curve of technology and where people are heading. It is a blessing that with Koolriculum (BDG’s education curriculum using music), we have actually started Koolriculum CS (Computer Science) that teaches everything from science and technology, to how to code in music form. Needless to say, we are all over this. We are pretty much in the final stages. Also, I think it is great to give more kids across the country access to opportunities to take on careers in tech. I want to be involved and be on the front lines to help.
What can attendees expect at the 20-city tour in 2017?
They can expect solutions to some of the major issues that plague our communities and our homes and families daily. Experts are pointing out the problems in our schools and communities, but our tour is about real solutions that can be implemented immediately to heal and transform minds and get us where we need to be. They can expect that the playing field will be set for us to start fighting the right way for change.
Where do you see BDG in the next five years? What is the targeted number of students you’d like to reach by then?
I see BDG being a nationwide and global organization. A movement. I see us impacting so many lives. We are already branching into Africa, we are in the Bahamas, and we are expanding to other areas outside of the country. Our goal is to take it to another level and make BDG the go-to program that meets our youth where they are. We want them to learn how to persevere. We will also give them opportunities through other components of our organization, such as through our TV network. We will be a Disney or Nickelodeon on steroids, with the impact of a United Way that will benefit people all over the world.