The Memorial Union throws opens its doors on Thursday night to kick off a three-day, all ages celebration of all things hip hop in Madison.
Sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Directorate, the Homegrown Hip Hop Festival is a showcase of the best regional acts the Midwest has to offer. On the docket for this entirely free festival is a combination of indie all-stars and local talent, including Brother Ali, Lucha Libre, Figureheads, a DJ expo, and the Just Bust! spoken word open mic.
Tomorrow's kickoff event at Der Rathskeller guarantees hours of high energy music, with performances by jazz infused hip hop artist Othello and two local artists -- Ra Fury and dumate. Chicago's Rhymefest, an emcee who is best known for co-writing "Jesus Walks" with KanyeWest, is set to headline the night.
WUD Festival Director Matt Forrest specifically chose artists for Homegrown Hip Hop that he thought best represented the unique facets of hip hop in the Midwest.
"More than anywhere else in the nation," he asserts, "hip hop has a regional following that is true to the roots of the music but progressive at the same time." The passion for music that extends into smaller rural communities, explains Forrest, is what sets Midwestern hip hop apart from other areas.
Citing obvious urban centers like Minneapolis, Chicago, and Detroit as hubs for an underground hip hop scene, Forrest also says that "the movement being brought up here through education and programming is unparalleled." Madison has put itself on the hip hop map both musically and culturally as a place where varied artists can thrive, which he says makes it the perfect place to host the fest.
Minneapolis resident and Madison ex-pat El Guante (also known as freelance writer and Isthmus contributor Kyle Myhre) is returning to town and scheduled to perform both Friday and Saturday nights -- one a spoken word workshop and the other a hip hop set. "I love to get opportunities to do both spoken word and hip hop," he says, "because the two forms are very different and I'm one of a very few people who has had success with both."
This will be El Guante's first time back to town after moving away in August, and he is pleased with the direction the organizers have taken the event. "Too often," he says, "Midwest indie hip hop acts get caught up in playing to the same crowd over and over again -- usually college aged, often white, often male -- it's a trend that's hard to ignore." Yet the lack of cover charge and use of a public space for all ages in this circumstance is a chance for the entire community to participate.
Indeed, Friday's spoken word workshop and student performance/open mic night encourages a DIY, organic participation that is one of hip hop's hallmarks. Both Forrest and El Guante emphasize that hip hop is just as much about community as it is about music, and the Midwest has a vibrant scene.
"It's the most powerful thing about hip hop," says El Guante. "If it comes from the hearts and you work hard, you'll be rewarded. Maybe not with millions of dollars, but with the opportunity to travel around making art and connecting with people."
And any artist -- hip hop or otherwise -- would be hard pressed to imagine anything better than that.