Hip-hop artists push back against show to celebrate hip-hop

A plan to highlight hip-hop artists in the Twin Cities has run afoul of hip-hop artists.

MPR’s The Current and Twin Cities Public Television had planned the State of Hip Hop event at the Fitzgerald Theater for May, but a community meeting to plan the event highlighted deep divisions between artists and the media.

On her blog last week, The Current’s Andrea Swensson wrote that panelists and the audience questioned why MPR and TPT “had any business hosting a hip-hop show,” whether the Fitzgerald Theater is the proper place to hold a hip-hop show, and questioned why the show isn’t originating from the hip-hop community itself.

To say that the conversation gave all of us a lot to think about is an understatement; personally, I’ve spent the past few days deep in reflection digesting everything that was heard and said, while discussing the meeting with my colleagues resulted in more questions than answers. But I do know one thing for certain: If we are going to proceed with this event, we need to do it as transparently as possible, and the community at large deserves to know exactly what our goals are before more details are confirmed or announced.

On his blog after the meeting, the Star Tribune’s Chris Riememschneider said that race is a big part of the tension between the artists and the media:

Pioneering rapper TruthMaze and Freedom Radio News & Culture Network’s Ralph Crowder staged a press conference outside Intermedia Arts that called out the Current’s parent organization MPR on its lack of black staffers and questioned its understanding of urban hip-hop culture. They were way off on their figures claiming MPR only employs five African Americans among its 100 staffers – in fact, 400-plus people work at the publicly subsidized radio empire – but even most MPR staffers would agree the organization could employ more African American employees and resources.

“We want to raise the issues that are not being raised among the rappers [played on the Current] and bring more awareness for the community and culture that created hip-hop culture,” TruthMaze said.

Those complaints partially carried over indoors for the official panel. Wright said that local media “tends to cherry-pick what’s hot, and the rest of the media follows suit.” Guante (Kyle Tran Myhre) also singled out the “gatekeeper” aspect of local press and radio — which prevents more outsider/fringe artists from getting attention — but he also said local performers need to be more proactive in promoting themselves. “We can do better, but the media can do better, too,” he said. The Lioness (Shaiwna Adams) admitted her own ignorance of reaching out to local press and radio in the past: “It’s not going to fall in your lap,” she said. “You have to knock on doors.”

One of the goals for the meeting was to to explore whether “we (can)break down those barriers from both sides?”

Perhaps not yet.

In an open letter to MPR and TPT today, some of the region’s biggest hip hop artists asked that the event be postponed until an “authentic, sustainable partnership” can be formed, suggesting that it doesn’t exist now.

To: Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television as institutions, and to Dianne Steinbach, David Roth, Jim McGuinn, Jeff Kamin and Andrea Swensson as individuals:

Last night, members of the Twin Cities hip hop community met to discuss the upcoming event formerly titled “State of Hip Hop,” currently scheduled for May 10 at the Fitzgerald Theater.

The relationship between hip hop culture and media institutions (radio, print media, TV, etc.) has always been impacted by histories of exploitation, appropriation and mutual distrust. For this event, MPR and TPT have shown a willingness to reach out to the hip hop community, and that should be applauded.

The issue, however, is that when an event claims to be “ a celebration and sampling of some of the great things that the Minnesota hip-hop scene has to offer, presented in a way that honors and represents the community:” a willingness to reach out is simply not enough. We are interested in an intentional, sustainable, mutually-beneficial partnership and collaboration.

So in that spirit, we are respectfully yet firmly requesting that the May 10 event be postponed. We realize that this may have a logistical cost, but also that that cost is more than counterbalanced by the potential benefits of having more voices at the table, more elements of our community represented, and a more intentional, transparent planning process.

The undersigned:

Kevin Beacham
BDotCroe (Brynno Crockett)
Keno Evol (Antoine Duke)
Manuel Levins Holden
Tish Jones
Tou Sailo Lee
Chaka Mkali
Mastermind (Nick Muhammad)
Guante (Kyle Tran Myrhe)
Brother Ali (Ali Newman)
Desdamona (Heather Ross)
D’Allen Wrhite
Toki Wright

Among those signing the letter was Kevin Beacham, who hosts a hip-hop program on The Current, which uses Legacy Funds to provide exposure to local artists and cultures.

Whether the protest by the artists dooms the show is unclear. The artists to appear at the show were originally to be announced on The Current tomorrow. Messages to several artists, representatives of The Current, Minnesota Public Radio, and Twin Cities Public Television have not been returned.

Update 3:58 p.m. – From MPR: “We want to continue this conversation and have a deeper dialogue with TPT and the event production team before any decisions are made.”