After a series of discussions with the hip-hop community at large, with the president and CEO of Minnesota Public Radio, and with the planning team behind the upcoming hip-hop show at the Fitzgerald Theater, a decision has been reached by all parties to postpone the event indefinitely while continuing a dialogue between the institution, the organizers, and the community.
This is not a decision that was taken lightly by anyone involved, but I think I can speak for my colleagues here at the Current when I say that this as an opportunity and a positive step forward. If we’re going to put on a show of this scale and make it something that the community can be proud of, then we need the time and the breathing room to do it right.
One thing I’ve realized in this process (which, for me personally, started six months ago and has involved countless phone calls, emails, and cups of coffee with artists from across the community), is that it’s difficult to separate the culture of hip-hop from the larger issues that we face as a society. Dating back to the birth of the genre, hip-hop has served as an outlet and a voice for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the poor, and the struggling, and here in Minnesota especially we have a gigantic pool of civically engaged and socially conscious artists whose work hinges on their ability to question things from every angle.
Of the many poignant things I have read and heard over the past few weeks, a comment from an MC named Chantz Erolin has lingered in my mind: “I think one of the biggest truths of hip hop is that you can’t have the mural without the tag,” he wrote. Meaning that we can’t celebrate hip-hop without also embracing and examining the tension and passion and ugliness that exists underneath the surface. And what I’ve also realized is that while I’m in a position as a journalist to ask certain questions, there are deeper issues that have persisted within the community—and have thrown up barriers between artists and the press—that will take more than one hip-hop show or one panel discussion to dismantle. But what I hope is that simply identifying and acknowledging some of these barriers has been an important first step.
When I was first asked to help plan this event, I had all kinds of ideas. I actually went back recently and dug out the very first email I wrote when I was asked what I thought about the idea of showcasing hip-hop at the Fitz last fall. “I think that now is a great time to pursue something like this,” I wrote. “Our hip-hop scene has expanded and produced some really compelling acts over the past two years, and it reaches far beyond the Rhymesayers and Doomtree artists who get the lion’s share of the media attention.” The email went on and on (and on), but for the most part I still agree with most of the ideas that I had when I was first presented with the idea. And in the months that followed, my conversations with the artists in my Rolodex, the artists in their Rolodexes, and the artists who I have only just discovered recently further cemented my belief that if this show is truly going to represent the Minnesota hip-hop scene, it’s going to require input and appearances by a lot of passionate people from all kinds of different backgrounds—and it’s going to require us to find some common ground and some kind of mutual understanding before we can inch it all forward.
I don’t know exactly what the next steps will be, or what this event (or events?) will look like after working more closely with the community. But I do know that I am eager, open, and curious to see what we can build when we all work together.
In the interest of transparency, here is the letter that was sent to leaders in the hip-hop community this evening by me, the Current’s program director Jim McGuinn, and our CEO Jon McTaggart, which was written in response to an open letter received by MPR and TPT yesterday: