March 31, 2013 at 1:00 am

Donna Terek

Corktown's 5e Gallery is a bastion of hip-hop culture

5e Gallery
5e Gallery: 5e Gallery is not just an art gallery. It's a cultural center for all things hip-hop located on the edge of Corktown.

Corktown is arguably one of the whitest neighborhoods in Detroit, rife with hipsters visiting — or moving in — from the burbs and beyond. So it's not the first place you'd look for a bastion of hip-hop culture like 5e Gallery.

Hip-hop crossed the color line long ago and has been embraced by Detroit faves Eminem and Kid Rock. But the root of the music like all historically American music — think jazz, blues, gospel — is black.

Corktown has been 5e's home since 2008, originally across from Slows Bar-B-Q on Michigan Avenue. Then in 2011 the building's owner decided to sell and 5e was forced to move down Michigan to 19th Street into the space that was once the Michigan, and later, the Zeitgeist Gallery.

"We've brought diversity to Corktown," said founder Sicari Ware. "The location is perfect for serving southwest and greater Detroit."

The space has two main rooms, one for performances and art, and one that looks like a cozy saloon with an old mahogany bar that seems to go on forever. (No alcohol is served.)

A haven of hip-hop

5e stands for the five main elements of hip-hop: emceeing, deejaying, b-boying, graffiti and "the knowledge," said co-owner Piper Carter. The "knowledge" element includes a youth program that focuses on artistic expression and entrepreneurship. But, more importantly, said Ware, who goes by DJ Sicari, it's about mastering mind, body and spirit through the arts of hip-hop.

"The purpose of 5e Gallery is to have a hub of culture where hip-hop is the focus," Carter said.

The building is also a community computer lab and wi-fi hotspot; a place where graffiti artists can paint legally; a studio where b-boys, emcees and deejays can rehearse freely and a "school" where youth can learn all of the above.

Ware has been an advocate for Detroit hip-hop since 1994 when he was a b-boy at the legendary Hip-Hop Shop, rubbing elbows with MC luminaries Jay Dilla, Proof and Eminem. Later, in the 2000s, Ware said he worked for the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC) where he started a hip-hop-themed high school that closed after a year when funding dried up.

The experience convinced him he could connect with youth through hip-hop. He turned his efforts toward creating 5e as a hip-hop center for the larger community.

A well-known deejay, Ware was a natural leader for the venture.

Respecting women

When Carter came on board in 2009, she saw a need only a woman might register. Commercial hip-hop had a pretty bad attitude toward women.

"We realized there was a need for nurturing, supporting, sustaining, uplifting —women in the genre of hip-hop. Better lyrics, more supportive lyrics," Carter said. And local female emcees needed recognition.

So in May, 2009 Carter tapped two of them, Miz Korona and Invincible, to help develop and host The Foundation, which has become an open-mic love fest of rap and spoken word performances with deejay accompaniment and live music.

Current host Mahogany (Jones) keeps the Tuesday performances moving, encouraging the reluctant, soothing stage fright and reminding the crowd that lyrics that disrespect women are not OK. And in spite of this prohibition, half of the performers are male.

And if performers forget themselves and use a common, but derogatory, term for women in their lyrics, she has a gentle remonstrance at the ready.

"This is a no 'ho' zone," she will announce. "I am so sorry, you are in violation of Code No. 124 at The Foundation, celebrating women in hip-hop.

"…You can talk about anything you want to talk about. You just can't talk about women in a negative way."

Staying afloat

Ware, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has been sidelined recently by the disease, leaving Carter to shoulder more of the operation.

A professional photographer who split her time between her native Detroit and New York City, Carter was always able to supplement the gallery's income with freelancing, as Ware did with his deejaying. But now running 5e has become her full-time job.

Carter said she is juggling the duties as best she can while worrying about the gallery's biggest concern — money.

She said they are desperately raising funds through the gallery's Web site, charging a cover for events and selling $50 memberships. The membership comes with 10 coupons for free admission to events like The Foundation.

"We need $150,000 to save our building," Carter says in a video on 5egallery.org. The couple spent the past two years bringing the building up to code, but the cracked foundation needs to be fixed. The building needs a new roof and they need to make a $50,000 balloon payment on their land contract at the end of May, she said.

"If we can't meet that goal," Ware said, "the funds we raise now will be put toward securing a new location."

The couple hopes to remain in Corktown — somewhere on Michigan Avenue.

And if that happens, it "will be the third building we will have restored in Corktown," Ware said.

"At the end of the day the 5e impact is greater than any one space," he said, adding that he and Carter are determined to build on the momentum they've created over the past five years.

5e Gallery co-owner Piper Carter, left, works with Marlon Johnson, 17, center, and Xavier Lewis, 18, students from Plymouth Educational Center, creating raps. Educational programming for youth is one way 5e promotes the "knowledge" element of Hip-Hop's five elements or principles. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
Mikey Ho, 21, of Westland works out at b-boy practice at 5e Gallery. ...
One of DJ Sicari's goals when he founded 5e Gallery was to provide a ...
Tahmeed Khan, 22, of Detroit attends b-boy practice at 5e Gallery ...
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