VACANCY: Twin Cities seek HIP-HOP

An attendance slump at hip-hop shows sparks worries that hip-hop is slowly dying in the Twin Cities. Can a once-healthy scene be revived?

Megan Kadrmas

When DJ Verb X started up Vinyl Lounge, a dance night featuring local DJs and hip-hop music, he thought it was a sure success.

After all, the 30-something pointed out, the biweekly event had a lot in common with a hip-hop night that used to be a staple in the Twin Cities.

It was at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown, it was on Sunday nights and it highlighted some prominent local acts.

Verb said he thought he was doing Dinkytown a favor by bringing back a concept that was so popular a few short years ago.

Now, fewer than four months later, he is reformatting the night and shaking his head at the dismal turnout week after week.

“At first, I thought the problem was poor

promotion,” he said. “But then I realized that students weren’t going anywhere other than the Library or Stub and Herb’s.”

Indeed, crowds at Dinkytown’s other staple hip-hop night, The Hook-Up Saturday nights at the Dinkytowner, had been growing thinner and thinner throughout the past school year.

“Attendance has been good since, like, July,” The Hook-Up’s organizer, Unicus, said. “Before that, it was really hit-or-miss.”

Even big-name shows like Rock the Bells, which brought the Wu Tang Clan, Nas, Talib Kweli, Pharoe Monch and more all to the same stage failed to sell out this summer.

Some, like Justin Schell, a comparative studies, discourse and society graduate student at the University, think the Rock the Bells phenomena had more to do with the where than the who.

Back to School Mash-Up

Featuring Muja Messiah, Dessa of Doomtree, The Elementals, DJ Verb X, DJ Defiant.

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 16, 10:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Varsity Theater, 1308 Fourth St. S.E., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $6, 18 plus
www.varsitytheater.org

“I hate the Myth,” he said. “I think a lot of people were disappointed it wasn’t in the Metrodome parking lot.”

Schell, who is writing his thesis on hip-hop, has gone to a lot of concerts this summer. Since conceptualizing the theme of his dissertation in January, he has gone to semi-official shows, festivals, summits, club nights, weekly showcases and local concerts. This summer, he said, he attended 30 to 35 shows, sometimes hitting up as many as five in one day.

Many times, he said he was the one of the few people in the crowd. He talked to artists from the

first generation of Twin Cities hip-hoppers and watched the new rappers on the block.

CAUSE OF DEATH

Watching all of these shows and talking to some of the Twin Cities’ most important rhymers and beat-makers, Schell saw and heard a wide variety of hip-hop artists struggling to pack the room.

The problem, as he sees it, is more of a perceived cultural divide between hip-hop generations.

“Some of the younger cats aren’t in touch with the history of hip-hop here, and they don’t have the respect for the struggle and the art form and the culture,” Schell said. “If they think hip-hop is B96, then that’s the problem,” he added.

Indeed, Verb X touched on this subject, too. He was shocked one time, he said, when he was talking to a younger MC who said he had only heard a couple of Gangstarr tracks.

“There are these kids going to the club and thinking hip-hop is what they hear on B96 and KDWB,” he said. “There won’t be a hip-hop community in a few years if you have a lot of cats thinking like this. And I think we do.”

They perceived ignorance isn’t Verb’s only problem with the younger set coming up into the hip-hop scene.

The fans, he said, are accustomed to a disposable lifestyle.

Limewire, YouTube and MySpace, he said, are being used by some fans as a way to enjoy music without ever leaving their desks.

“It’s cool to have technology and to experiment with it,” he said. “But it’s starting to hurt hip-hop.”

He said local artists are paying up-front costs to have albums pressed and then not making any money because people just illegally download it. Or, as another example, he said there are people having YouTube parties where they charge a few bucks for cover and then just play music videos or concert footage from different artists all night.

Schell, who sits at the back of concerts, observing, said if this were the real issue, it would be across the musical landscape.

Another issue being tossed around by Verb and other artists is the lack of community among hip-hop artists.

There are so many different sounds, cliques and acts that everyone is working against each other, Verb said.

“We’re a small community,” he said. “I don’t know if there even really is a community anymore because everyone is hating on what everyone else is doing.”

Bringing it back to life

Verb isn’t all negative about the current slump in support of local hip-hop, though.

“Back in the ’80s, no one ever thought hip-hop would be this big,” he said.

Schell agreed, saying he didn’t have to search hard to find different sounds in different parts of the Cities each night of the week.

However, Verb said, all the progress artists from his generation have made in the Twin Cities could be lost if people don’t start coming out to support the live shows.

“If the venues ain’t making money off hip-hop,” he said. “They’re gonna stop booking it.”

Although Verb said he sometimes feels like the Twin Cities music network is too small, he said he’ll stick around.

He’s reformatting the Vinyl Lounge into a mash-up night, pulling in acts from across the hip-hop genre. He’s promoting the hell out of it, hoping for the best and keeping a positive attitude towards making music work in the fish bowl within the fish bowl that is Dinkytown.

And if that fails?

“Somebody’s got to stick around to show the young cats who Gangstarr is,” he said with a shrug.