This year, I’ve been to four shows/events that have stood out to me, not simply because of the premium acts on stage, but the crowds that assembled.
Jan. 13 — Lil B, Highline Ballroom
Feb. 14 — Theophilus London, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Feb. 26 — Just Blaze/DJ Soul/A-Trak/DJ Clark Kent/Stretch Armstrong/many others, Santos Party House
Mar. 8 — Cyhi Da Prynce/Yelawolf, Highline Ballroom
Before the Lil B concert, I, along with my friends Matt and Kelly, speculated who would be the most overrepresented demographic at the concert: White guys, White girls, Black guys, or Black girls. Each of us had a different answer, but I was positive it would be Black guys.
We get to the concert and quickly realize there is no overrepresented demographic. EVERYONE is at this thing. Big bouncer-lookin Black guys in jackets and skull caps, skinny White guys in fitted caps and seemingly sprayed-on jeans, Asian girls in short skirts and Nike SB’s, Hispanic girls in heels and fitted caps. Errbody.
If you were to mix up the aforementioned races/ethnicities and outfits and create four new people, they were also at this concert. It was beautiful. I left with my mind blown, not only by Lil B, but also by the United Nations General Assembly that turned out for the concert.
Fastforward to a month and a day later at the Theophilus concert and it was like Lil B, but even more so. It was so diverse, I thought I was about to pose for a private school admissions brochure. Not only were all these different people present, all these different people were huge fans. There was a white girl and black girl right in front of me holding hands and jumping up and down, both talking about how they wanted to do unspeakable things to Mr. London.
That’s what I call progress.
The last night of Just Blaze/DJ Soul’s “ReOpened” Friday night party at Santos Party House was essentially a celebration of hip-hop and a farewell to one of the best parties in the city. Santos on Friday became home to a very diverse subculture that loves old school and new school hip-hop. Over my 18 months in NYC, I probably went over 20 times and it never disappointed. I would usually come with a diverse crowd myself and it served as a safe space for everyone, as well as an eye-opening experience for the person that tends to hang in shockingly homogeneous environments.
2 days ago, Atlanta’s own/Kanye West-signed Cyhi Da Prynce and Alabama’s own/Eminem-signed Yelawolf shared a stage at the Highline Ballroom. Seeing Southern artists perform in NYC is always a crapshoot, because New Yorkers respond very differently to Southern music than we do. A New Yorker’s reflex is to do the head bob to music, while a southerner’s reflex is to jump up and down, get in someone’s face, punch your palm, and shake your head as if you had dreadlocks.
I was a little worried about the energy at the show, but my anxiety was quickly squashed. Once again, the crowd had the racial makeup of the cast of Degrassi, and the southerners that have made temporary residence in NYC came out in droves. I honestly felt like I was at MJQ for a solid 2 hours.
There was a moment when Yelawolf was performing, Cyhi came out to do a verse on his song, and I immediately realized I was watching something I had never seen in person. A White and Black guy on the same stage rapping on the same song. I mean, I know it’s happened plenty of times (Eminem and _______), but I had never seen it. I was so pleased. (Also, Pharoah Monch came out and did “Simon Says”, but I just don’t have time this year to get into that).
I say all of this to make a grander point. Hyperbole’s aside, I truthfully believe hip-hop is doing more to bring the races together than anything else currently in America. Say what you will about the content material, but you can’t/shouldn’t deny the impact it’s having on race relations.
Just thinking about the other things I do with my time, truly diverse environments are hard to come by, even in a city like New York. I mean, until May 2012, I have the fun job of speaking for my entire race in graduate school, so that’s always fun.
And while entities like the US government and the corporate world don’t know how to talk about/handle issues of race that maturely, my boy Matt and I have been watching a 2hr video clip of DJ Premier and DJ Pete Rock in Tokyo, playing to packed Black, Japanese, and White crowd. Interesting.
When I think of the diverse set of people I grew up with/around in Atlanta that are involved in the arts, with a lean towards hip hop, the racial acceptance of hip-hop becomes even more noticeable.
I think of SMKA, who are currently about to head out to South By Southwest in Austin, TX to co-sponsor a Hip-Hop Showcase featuring three of the XXL 2011 Freshman Class (Big KRIT, Mac Miller, Cyhi Da Prince) + my personal favorite, Aleon Craft (New Video, “Look Down” — Shot by Dustin Chambers)
I think of Motion Family, who are currently pulling a mid-90s Hype Williams on the rap world, shooting videos for Wiz Khalifa, T.I., Killer Mike, B.o.B, Waka Flocka Flame, Yelawolf… just in the past 5 months.
I think of Dustin Chambers, who does anything from shooting rap videos to photographing the Bronner’s Brothers Hair Show and everything in between.
No matter what the scholars and talking heads say about post-racial America being a myth and an unattainable goal, in some circles, the walls are slowly attempting to crumble.
To them, I say they should probably get out a little more and find out what the youngins are up to, instead of simply penning editorials from the couch while watching Eyes on the Prize.