Local Current Blog

The State of Hip Hop meeting leads to questions from the community

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Artists Toki Wright and Slug participated in a panel discussion on media and hip-hop (Photos by Jay Gabler/MPR)

On Monday night at Intermedia Arts, 140 passionate representatives from the Twin Cities hip-hop community came out to discuss the upcoming event that MN Original and the Current are planning for May 10 at the Fitzgerald Theater.

As is the nature of many open meetings, the conversation bounced around quite a bit and touched on everything from the relationship between media outlets and the hip-hop community to concerns that people had about the event—and specifically whether MN Original and the Current (and their parent companies, tpt and MPR) had any business hosting a hip-hop show.

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.

The following are some essential questions that arose from the meeting, with some thoughts from a few different organizers behind the event.

Who is planning the event?

Although we have said that the event is being planned by the Current and MN Original, I thought it might be helpful to explain exactly who is behind the event and how to contact us.

The core team of planners includes tpt‘s senior director of arts and cultural media, Dianne Steinbach (dsteinbach@tpt.org); tpt series producer David Roth (droth@tpt.org); the Current’s program director Jim McGuinn (jmcguinn@mpr.org); the Fitzgerald Theater’s senior producer of performance programs, Jeff Kamin (jkamin@mpr.org); and Current hosts Kevin Beacham (kevin@fifthelementonline.com) and me, Andrea Swensson (aswensson@mpr.org).

Why did we decide to put this event together?

The event originated in a discussion between the Current and tpt about how they could collaborate on a show about Minnesota music. Because these conversations began between the Current’s Jim McGuinn and tpt‘s Dianne Steinbach and David Roth, I asked them to weigh in on how the process got started.

“The Current and tpt have collaborated a few times recently, turning the past two Rock the Gardens into TV specials,” Jim McGuinn said. “An idea was fostered to have a music event at the Fitz, with the goal being that tpt would turn it into TV and the Current into a radio show. Starting from that point, we kicked around a variety of ideas, from tributes to MN icons like Bob Dylan to shows that would celebrate music from a variety of genres, eventually deciding that we thought the most interesting story we could try to tell was the story of hip hop in Minnesota. Talk to most people from out of state and they look at you sideways when you tell them how big hip hop is in this frigid northern state.”

“For those who may not know, MN Original (mno) is a local arts series on tpt that showcases Minnesota visual and performing artists and features artists from all of the creative disciplines, and we have featured many hip-hop artists over the last five years,” Dianne Steinbach added. “The artists perform and talk about their art in their own words. Viewers always comment that what they love most about mno is that they discover artists they didn’t know existed and that they are amazed at how many cool creative people live here. MN Original is very much about bringing the artists who live and work here, to the attention of the audience. When the Current and mno decided to partner on a music special we agreed right away that the hip-hop work happening here is one of the most interesting art scenes in Minnesota. There is a lot of talent, diversity and history here, so let’s call it ‘The State of Hip Hop,’ meaning ‘Minnesota, the State of Hip Hop.'”

“We wanted to provide a forum to showcase hip hop, just like we would provide a forum showcasing any other art form currently active in our community,” said David Roth. “As a producer working with Legacy funds, I have an obligation to tell the story of culture in my area.”

Why are MPR and tpt telling this story?

One of the biggest questions that was raised at the community meeting was why MPR and tpt were the right media companies to start this conversation—or whether the conversation about the state of hip-hop in Minnesota should be started by any media company at all, as opposed to originating from within the community.

This is a complex issue and one that, as I previously mentioned, has resulted in more questions than answers for the planning team. But the conversation has also helped us to sharpen our goals (which we’ll get to very soon) and reflect on exactly what we can and should be offering to the community.

“As public media, we have this megaphone/spotlight that we can shine on our local culture and attempt to bring it to a wider audience,” Jim McGuinn said. “Hip hop in Minnesota is not simple—we won’t be able to cover every nuance and section of the community in one show. But if we can expose some of the leading musical figures and developing artists to a wider audience, we hope that this show can be a starting point for increased understanding and celebration of this vibrant culture.”

Through these discussions, we have learned that the name we initially chose for the event—The State of Hip Hop—created a sense of gravity and suggested a deeper and more philosophical goal for the event than was originally intended. Because of this, we will be changing the name of the May 10 event at the Fitzgerald to something that better represents our mission.

“The initial vision for the State Of Hip Hop special co-produced by the Current and tpt’s MN Original was to produce a celebratory performance special about the Hip Hop scene in Minnesota. Our intention is to present a mix of emerging, mid-career and late-career artists working in this genre locally and broadcast it statewide and worldwide online,” said Dianne Steinbach. “In retrospect, I think the title we began with, ‘The State (meaning, Minnesota) of Hip Hop’ unintentionally conveyed the “state” of hip hop, as in a condition of being, which sparked an emotional and obviously important discussion about the hip-hop community and its relationship with the press.

“Clearly, there is much to discuss here and people are anxious to have that conversation. So are we,” Dianne continued. “As public media professionals we are lucky enough to work with artists every day, and the best part of our job is being able to connect with and share the artist’s work with our audiences. Can we find ways to do it better? Absolutely. Work with us. Do let us know you are out there. Monday night was a good beginning.”

Why is a hip-hop show happening at the Fitz?

Is there anything about the Fitzgerald Theater that screams hip-hop? No, not really. But there are two simple reasons for the venue choice: the Fitz is owned by MPR, and it is MPR’s largest recording studio. The theater is already set up to be ideal for audio and video recording, which will allow both the Current and tpt to create high-quality media documentation of the evening.

Jim McGuinn: “There are many technical reasons why doing this at the Fitz works well for turning this show into TV and radio shows. And it’s a beautiful venue in downtown St. Paul.”

“I agree with Jim,” Dianne added. “Both the Current and tpt have a responsibility to the artists we work with to produce the best audio and video possible. When multiple media entities partner, it is often very hard to find a venue that satisfies the technical needs for high-quality radio recording and the completely different visual needs for television production in lighting and camera placement. And the most important venue requirement is that it have a wonderful acoustic for the enjoyment of the audience in the theater. We are fortunate to have a venue that meets all of those artistic and technical needs, and is one of the finest concert halls in the midwest: the Fitz.”

What are the goals for the May 10 event?

The goals for the May 10 event at the Fitz have not changed significantly since the planning began, but we recognized that we could do a much better job stating those goals publicly. Here are the key things we hope to provide with this event:

  • 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 performance-based event with some discussion of what drives and inspires artists, and what makes Minnesota unique; and
  • A boost in exposure for talented artists who may not be on the radar of the existing tpt, Current, and Fitzgerald Theater audiences.

What are the next steps?

The upcoming event at the Fitz is not a one-off occurrence for tpt and MPR; rather, we hope that it will be just one of the many pieces of dialogue that will take place this spring and summer.

We are in the process of booking acts for the event but still have many slots to be filled, and are open to suggestions in terms of specific acts or themes that could be explored.

We received a tremendous response to our online and paper surveys—nearly 100 responses have been received and read—and we are open and available to answer any additional questions or address other concerns that may still linger in the community.

Feel free to leave a comment below, or follow up with us privately using the email addresses listed above. We hear you, and we will continue to listen and learn from you as this event comes together.