February 10, 2014

The National Register Rap: Meet the Minds Behind the Music

  • By: Julia Rocchi

Sam Crystal, Katie DeCecco, Nate Dawes, and Carol Vinatieri. Credit: Grumpy Group
Sam Crystal, Katie DeCecco, Nate Dawes, and Carol Vinatieri: the group behind the "National Register Rap"

When the National Register Rap dropped in early December 2013, it went "preservation viral" -- as in, everyone who's ever navigated the National Register (NR) process immediately recognized and shared the funny (and useful) video.

We caught up with the masterminds behind the rap -- Nate Dawes, Katie DeCecco, Carol Vinatieri, and Sam Crystal, all historic preservation students at the University of Mary Washington -- to learn how they put it together, what they'd like people to discover about the National Register, and what their personal plaques would say.

What inspired you to write a song about the National Register in the first place? And why a rap?

Originally, it started as a class project. We had to give a presentation to our class talking about the National Register, including its pros and cons. Dr. Andréa Livi Smith, our professor, encouraged us to be as hilarious and creative with our presentations as possible. Immediately after assigning us the project, Nate came up with the idea for a rap music video. The rest was history.

Where did you shoot the video? What’s the significance of each location?

We filmed in multiple locations. Being University of Mary Washington (UMW) students, we were fortunate enough to be able to use the historic resources around us in Fredericksburg, Va. We filmed on the UMW campus, in the historic downtown, at Kenmore Plantation, Chatham Manor, and on Washington Avenue. We chose these locations because they represent many of the wonderful historic sites found in Fredericksburg.

What do you think is the biggest misperception out there about the National Register?

We have often found that many people don’t truly understand the National Register. From our experience while learning about the NR, people often think of [it as] red tape and government control instead of a way of preserving our nation’s heritage. What people often don’t realize is that the NR is a tool for support and gives us the means to protect our national history.

If you ruled the preservation universe for a day, what would you change about the National Register? What would you keep?

For a class project, we created a mock National Register nomination and it drove us insane. The system seemed outdated and overcomplicated. As preservation rulers for a day, we would simplify the process by integrating the entire process into one easily accessible medium, such as an app. This would make it easier to understand instructions and information. It could also increase productivity while decreasing mistakes. On the other hand, we would keep the same methods for determining merit for nomination to the National Register.

What’s one thing you hope people will learn from watching your video?

The video was meant to really be an explanation of the National Register for the average Joe. We understand that the NR can appear to be a daunting undertaking, and we wanted to produce something that simplified understanding the process. We really hope people come away understanding the start to finish process from not being on the Register to being on the Register. This includes the Register’s history, its purpose, and an understanding of what can actually be listed on Register itself.

Sam Crystal, Katie DeCecco, Carol Vinatieri, Nate Dawes. Credit: Grumpy Group

What’s your best piece of advice for kids and teens who want to save a place?

It is a difficult process, but we would tell them not to give up. If they are truly passionate about their cause then then they should contact the National Park Service or a local historical society who is familiar with the process.

If each of you had a National Register plaque for yourselves, what would you want it to say?

Carol Vinatieri: “Vini, Vidi, Vinatieri.”
Sam Crystal: “Sam Crystal slept here.”
Nate Dawes: “I regret that I have one rap video to make for my country.”
Katie DeCecco: “Give me preservation or give me death.”

Any plans to produce new educational songs? Say, the SHPO Shuffle or the Section 106 Sonata?

If the opportunity arises ... maybe. Otherwise, you’re gonna have to talk to our manager.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi was the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.

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