Over the past few months, two remarkable things have happened in the Minnesota hip-hop scene. The first came with news that Hip Hop Harambee, the first block party of its kind, was so successful last year that it would be returning for an even bigger second installment at the Nomad Pub. And the second happened just last month, when the idea of a new hip-hop and culture magazine resonated so deeply with people that new publication Greenroom Magazine soared past its $20,000 Kickstarter goal.
If you trace both of these developments to their roots, however, they actually lead back to the same person: 24-year-old Jake Heinitz, whose enthusiasm for music, health issues, and social change have made him one of the most exciting young entrepreneurs in the city.
Sitting for an interview at Common Roots in Minneapolis, Heinitz talks at a rapid-fire pace and unloads one big idea after another with his eyes open wide.
“I feel like at this point in our generation, our interests are all intersecting so closely,” he says. Heinitz began writing about hip-hop locally on his blog, Be Scene Minneapolis, and was able to connect with players in the scene so quickly that soon he found himself planning events, helping people network with one another, and searching for larger ways he could make an impact. “I’m trying to make a magazine that’s about health and music to make health cool,” he explains. “I’m trying to have a block party with the magazine so people are like, ‘Oh, so this block party is fun and has a really inclusive feeling and makes me feel joyful, and I’m also going to find that same message in this magazine. It’s just an overall message I’m trying to portray, but covering a whole bunch of different bases.”
Greenroom Magazine, which will be printed quarterly and distributed for free in several major cities, embraces that spirit of intersectionality. “Before, it’s you’d have a health magazine and a music magazine, but now everyone cares about their health… What a lot of artists used to do, they’d to have their personal trainer and their nutritionist and they’d have these secrets to themselves. Why does Brad Pitt look like he’s 25 still? It’s because he had these things. I want to open up this information. I want artists to talk about their health.”
But why launch a print magazine, especially in 2013 when print publications continue to shrink and shutter their doors?
“Because I’m psycho. Because I don’t like money and I just want to throw it down the toilet,” Heinitz says, letting out a high-pitched laugh. “No. Personally, I think everything goes in cycles, and I think that that’s what people were told. And in 2007, 2008, everything really did start to decline. I think we’re going to see a resurgence of print media. I know that I like to hold things in my hand. If my phone runs out of batteries I like to be able to have something in my backpack that I can pull out and read, rather than having to find the website and go through the whole jungle that is the internet.”
“I think there needs to be a balance between both, because progress is important, but no matter how far we progress we’re still going to be humans and still going want tangible things,” he continues. “And I know I’m not the only one that who hates staring at a screen, and hates the fact that my life is becoming a lot more of that. So to see something that’s real, and to see something that someone felt strongly enough about the message to print, that’s what I believe in. So hopefully there’s enough other people that believe in it.”
The first issue of Greenroom Magazine is out now, and features submissions from locals Lizzo, Prof, and Greg Grease, in addition to spotlights on national MCs like Homeboy Sandman and artists like Coco and Breezy. And one of the first places to pick it up is tomorrow’s Hip Hop Harambee Block Party, which Heinitz booked with help from Minneapolis rapper Manny Phesto.
“Harambee is a Swahili term, it means ‘Come together,’” Heinitz explains. “Last January, I was in Kenya with my childhood friend, who’s Kenyan but has been here since he was 8. And I was talking with my friend’s mom, Gladys, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to call this festival, I need your help.’ And I explained it and she was like, ‘How about Harambee? Harambee means community and to come together.’ And I was like, that’s exactly what I want it to be. So we named it that.”
The lineup for this year’s installment certainly speaks to Heinitz’s goal of bridging communities. In addition to headliners Big K.R.I.T., Shabazz Palaces, and Devin the Dude, Heinitz was careful to not only pull from disparate corners of the local community but also ensure that a variety of races, cultures, and genders were represented to help integrate what can often be a very segregated music community.
Still, Heinitz says he is cautious about borrowing a word from another culture to get his point across. “Coming from privilege, as someone who lives this day in white skin and gets to just do whatever the hell I want, where people who are black wake up with injustices they have to face—I don’t have to face that. So for me to use a word like Harambee, that’s not my word, it could be looked at as like culture vulturing. But that’s really not what I’m trying to do. I was trying to take a feeling that I felt, and then best represent it in a word and put it on a festival.”
As our interview nears its end, it seems there are few angles Heinitz hasn’t spent time considering and few people he has yet to win over with his contagious idealism and charm. I can’t help but wonder, has anyone ever told him ‘No’?
“Umm, no,” he says, letting out his giddy laugh again. “I don’t think so, no. I got out of everything when I was in high school. I never got in trouble.” He pauses, shifting to a more serious tone. “When I was 16 I lost my mom to suicide, and I realized you only get one life. My mom was my best friend. She managed coffee shops and knew everybody my their first name, she would laugh with them, joke with them. Me and her would go out to dinner and always get our bill picked up by somebody, like ‘we just saw you from another table and you guys are just glowing!’ Always. When she took her life, it threw me for a loop. I lived a couple years being a drunk a** and getting in trouble, and then I was like, ‘This isn’t what I want to do.’”
He pauses again, and a reassuring smile returns to his face. “Just living passionately—it’ll make people a lot more open to people talking to you about race, about happiness, about sadness, about what success means,” he reflects. “I’m just trying to be a vessel for that. And it’s worked; people see that I don’t have bad intentions. I’m really just trying to do something for all of my friends, and people that aren’t my friends yet but will be once I meet them.”
By the end of our conversation, I have no choice but to believe him.
Hip Hop Harambee takes place tomorrow, Saturday, September 21, and will feature performances by Big K.R.I.T., Shabazz Palaces, Devin the Dude, Lizzo and Lazerbeak, Psymun and K.Raydio, Toki Wright and Big Cats, Dread I Dred, VANDAAM, and the International Reggae All-Stars. More info and tickets here.