Four questions about race and hip-hop in the Twin Cities

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RACE. I either just got your attention or totally turned you off.

HIP-HOP. (Insert previous statement here.)

BOTH OF THESE are two very touchy topics of talk. I find it hard to have a discussion about one without the other in the Twin Cities. We live in a day and time where hip-hop is being recognized globally in places that weren’t even given a star on the map before. Living in the Twin Cities we are confronted with both race and hip-hop on a daily basis.

For clarity’s sake I should introduce myself. I am a 25-year-old African-American Minneapolis resident. I have been producing hip-hop shows locally for youth since 1998. I’m also a performer and speak often about the racial dynamics of our local scene with students, artists, and the others in the general public. My personal belief in the need for equality is not always agreed with. My answers do not exist to be final and my questions are meant to be open-ended. This being said, I think that the issue of race and hip-hop in the Twin Cities is not an issue that can be summed up in 700-1000 words.

Rather than writing a traditional article, I chose to internally debate four questions that come up often locally. It is my hope that these questions and responses will open up further conversation. While you are reading this I will clean out my inbox for the hate mail.

The racial segregation in hip-hop is a Minnesota thing, right?

Yes: In the Twin Cities there is something called “Minnesota Nice.” What this means is that unlike other places where people are more up-front about disliking you solely because of your race, people will act as if they accept you until you turn your back. This spills over into the hip-hop world.

No: Go to a hip-hop show in any city in the United States. Depending on the night, depending on who’s performing, and depending on who the promoter chooses to promote to, you could have a number of segregated outcomes. The truth is that some promoters just don’t like certain groups of people at their events for numerous reasons. When they are in control they can shape the events however they want.

Is the internet hurting Twin Cities hip-hop race relations?

Yes: The internet provides a space for people from all walks of life to make both blatantly and covertly racist statements without being censored. In the World Wide Web you can also hide your identity while making these statements so that you are not physically dealt with at every rap show for the rest of your life. The internet has become a catalyst for the physical and emotional disconnect between members of multiple backgrounds in our hip-hop community. The written word is difficult to judge because it can often lack that emotion. In turn people can develop whatever opinion they decide.

No: Many necessary conversations have arisen because of the internet’s ability for you to voice your opinion uninterrupted. Though ignorant comments are made, the constructive responses to the comments can be viewed by a wide number of people.

Do only white rappers get good shows?

Yes: It would certainly seem that way if you don’t take into account the amount of mixed-race artists living in the Twin Cities. Many of the “white rappers” have had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps behind a multitude of local performers who have paved the way. Also a lot of white kids don’t feel comfortable in a room full of kids of color just as much as a lot of kids of color don’t feel comfortable in a room full of white people.

No: Many of the “white rappers” get good shows because they have put in the effort and are consistent and persistent. You will see this to be true with many artists of other nationalities that understand their audience, create a workable business model, and stick to their plan. (i.e. Swisha House, Murs, Immortal Technique)

Is the Twin Cities being disrespectful to the “Streets”?

Yes: First there is a direct relationship between people of color and street culture. A lot people frankly do not care whatsoever about what happens in the inner city. When people from the streets, mainly people of color, talk about their issues of being ignored, placed in impoverished neighborhoods, police brutality, the sale of drugs, etc, outsiders may choose to ignore those realities. This is especially relevant because there is a direct benefit to privileged communities for this struggle.

No: Many of issues written above exist in all communities at different levels but there have been countless examples of “Street” culture that have had negative results on the community at large. Also due to media’s thirst for heroes and villains they tend to pimp out the “Street’s” pain for the gain of a good story. So when people of color bring to light negative issues they make themselves an easy target.

If we look at quantity it is rare that you will find a hip-hop event in the Twin Cities that is dominantly non-white. What does this mean? Do people of color no longer care about certain types of hip-hop culture? Do white kids appreciate the culture more than youth of color? Is there a racist overtone in Twin Cities hip-hop? Yes and No. The discussion is left up to you. What’s your version of the truth?

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