How can local hip-hop artists get the respect they deserve? It's a question that comes up again and again as Madison struggles with stereotypes about "urban" music. Julia Burke investigates the issue in the March 14 issue of Isthmus, shining a spotlight on several people who are helping cultivate performance opportunities for these artists.
Isthmus has covered the struggles of local hip-hop artists in many ways in the past. Community discussions of the topic tend to get heated when fights break out at hip-hop shows. These incidents have led some clubs to ban all rappers and even DJs who specialize in the genre. Yet it's unheard of to ban local rock, electronic or country artists due to criminal activity at concerts.
In a 2006 Isthmus cover story, Kyle Tran Myhre discussed the issue in the context of a stabbing on King Street, concluding that hip-hop is "startlingly misunderstood, particularly considering the fact that it's one of the dominant cultural forces on the planet." Myhre, who now performs as Guante in Minneapolis also draws from his personal experience as an artist, explaining how he's had to defend the genre against uninformed criticism, from "it's doggerel bereft of any artistic merit" to "it's violent thug music that makes people shoot one another" and even "it's just a bunch of [N-words] doing a rain dance."
Myhre went on to highlight area spoken-word artists who belong to the local and national hip-hop scenes. He was Madison's 2006 grand poetry slam champion, and covered his and the Madison team's effort at the 2007 National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas:
- Kyle 'El Guante' Myhre checks in from the opening of the National Poetry Slam 2007
- Madison team competes in its first bout at National Poetry Slam 2007
- Madison Slam Team bouts Minneapolis, Dallas, Detroit and Amarillo
- Slowly starting to get sick of poetry in Austin
- The Madison team takes in the finals of National Poetry Slam 2007
The National Poetry Slam came to Madison in 2008, and Myhre would cover that as well:
- Time to get ready for the National Poetry Slam in Madison
- Ten things to do at the 2008 National Poetry Slam in Madison
- National Poetry Slam 2008 enriches Madison: The week in review
Myhre was also part of the inaugural class of First Wave, a multicultural arts program for incoming UW students.
- The DJ as artist: Local turntable wizards move hearts and minds, not just bodies
- El Guante wins spoken-word grant
Launched in 2007, First Wave touts itself as the first university program in the U.S. centered on urban arts, spoken word and hip-hop culture. It has since grown to host "Getting Real," a nationally renowned lecture series featuring hip-hop performers and educators, a yearly conference about hip-hop in the classroom, and more.
Several Isthmus reporters have covered activities First Wave has hosted and important questions it has raised:
- Hip-hop goes to college: First Wave brings urban artists to study at the UW
- Word association: UW's First Wave program trains passionate hip-hop poets
- First Wave program at UW-Madison provides foundation for student hip-hop performers
- UW's First Wave program kicks off new scholarship program
While hip-hop's influence has grown in leaps and bounds at the UW, artists unaffiliated with the UW have continued to face steep challenges, especially when searching for performance venues. Fans were hard-pressed to find shows by local artists in 2009, and set of violent incidents at clubs in 2012 exacerbated the situation once again:
- Artists ponder health of hip-hop in Madison circa 2009
- After more club violence, disappointment, tightened security
But beginning in 2012, public discussions about local hip-hop became more organized. Isthmus covered several of them, including a sound-off at the East Madison Community Center and meetings of the Madison Arts Commission's new hip-hop subcommittee:
- Good ideas, healthy venting at Madison hip-hop community meeting
- Madison Arts Commission creates committee to give hip-hop a makeover
But old wounds have yet to heal at some venues. While touring hip-hop acts headline citywide events like Freakfest, including Mac Miller in 2012 and Chiddy Bang in 2013, local acts are still looking for stages. For example, the owner of the building that houses the Frequency has included a "no hip-hop" clause in the venue's lease:
On the flip side, opportunities for performance and professional development have expanded:
- New performance series helps Madison hip-hop get past its troubles
- Mixing and mingling: Madison bands and DJs try to get noticed at industry meet-ups
These competing developments, well over a decade in the making, are explored in the new Isthmus cover story: