Much has been said and written about divisions within hip- hop culture, pitting whites versus minorities, mainstream versus underground, purists versus innovators.
Hearing Toki Wright and Larry Lucio talk about hip hop, though, it’s easy to forget the factions in favor of words such as cohesion, collaboration and community.
Wright and Lucio are the organizers of the Fourth Annual Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop. The three-day event, taking place this weekend at First Avenue, features various battles, workshops, panel discussions and performances from more than 35 acts.
The festival “celebrates how hip hop brings together people from all walks of life,” Wright, a University senior, said.
This year’s event is stronger and more organized; it also has a more specific theme of community health and wellness, Wright said.
And it’s not just hip-hop insiders who have taken notice of the event and its influence. Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak declared this weekend “Hip-Hop Weekend” in the city of Minneapolis for the second year in a row.
The concept for the event wasn’t greeted as enthusiastically in 2001, the first year Lucio and Wright aimed to hold the festival.
“When we first pitched the idea, the response was very low,” Wright said. “We just decided, what the hell, we’ll do it ourselves.”
The early adversity was “a learning experience” and allowed the pair the autonomy to surround themselves with “good people,” Lucio said. It also gave them the chance to frame the festival within their philosophy of inclusion.
“As long as you approach us in a professional way, we’re more than happy to include you, to let you sit at the table,” Wright said.
Both men are involved in “YO! The Movement,” a nonprofit organization devoted to providing safe activities for Twin Cities youth; the organization is the major sponsor of the festival.
Involving young people in hip hop is of chief importance to Lucio and Wright, and a primary reason they began organizing the festival. Youth are hip hop’s most important component, Wright said.
“This event is really for our teens – we want to put youth first, so that they have something to look forward to each summer,” Wright said.
As the event gains national recognition (10,000 people have attended during the last three years), it also puts the Twin Cities and Minnesota on the map as places where hip hop is being performed, recorded and produced.
Wright himself is involved in several hip-hop acts, including Aphrill and The Children of Righteous Elevation. He will perform at the festival as half of the duo The CORE, with Adonis (AD) Frasier making up the other half.
The recognition of the Twin Cities as important to hip hop has made many young people proud of their state, city and community for the first time, Wright said.
Lucio sees the festival – and hip hop – as reaching farther than a glossy flier and a three-day event typically does.
“It’s really more than a concert, an album release, even a festival … It’s becoming a year-round lifestyle choice and blossoming into a definable culture,” he said.