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The Current vs. Hip Hop

A bunch of the artists who I would have picked as likely candidates for MPR's big hip-hop showcase at the Fitz have signed on to a letter asking for the station to take more time, and do it right.

Following up on the events that led to my open call for hip-hop press releases, Jay Boller writes that a lot of issues still need ironing out. You can read about that in his Vita.mn blog post.

A bunch of the artists who were on that panel, along with a bunch who were not, have asked the Current to postpone the State of Hip Hop show. Their statement is on twitter, but in summation:

...when an event claims to be "a celebration and sampling of some of the great things that the Minnesota hip-hop scene has to offer, presented in a way that honors and represents the community," a willingness to reach out is simply not enough. We are interested in an intentional, sustainable, mutually-beneficial partnership and collaboration.

I'm really torn on this one.

On One Hand:

They're absolutely right. MPR and its affiliated organizations suck at diversity and everyone knows it. Nobody wants to sign on for what could potentially be the Wits of hip hop. No one wants to see Garrison Keillor throwing his hands in the air like he just doesn't care. (Well, now that I say it, I kind of do.)

The point is that MPR, and especially the Current, found their audience in suburbia and among the moneyed, liberal neighborhoods of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. They're never going to abandon that audience and, except in the most occasional and innocuous of ways, I don't see them challenging that audience's comfort zone.

Hip-hop is not based in suburbia or moneyed, liberal neighborhoods. It will, by its very nature, challenge that audience. Knowing that this is exactly what MPR doesn't want to do (and having heard a bunch of performers talk about being made to sanitize their work when they were part of an MPR show,) I get that.

We also have to ask why MPR green lit this project, and we have to admit that a part of that reason was money. If they can credibly bring hip-hop under their umbrella, they bring in another revenue stream at pledge time. This, coupled with the aforementioned need to sanitize, completely validates the exploitation concerns touched on in the letter.

On the Other Hand:

It's not just MPR's chance to broaden its audience. This is also an opportunity for artists who've been snubbed by the Current. The Current's influence isn't just local. They've been a national launch point for some of my favorite Minneapolis bands. Getting a slice of their attention (although I'll stress it should be on the artists' terms, not theirs) can potentially be a great boost.

Also, Andrea Swensson is spearheading this project. If you followed her writing when she was at City Pages, you saw how she actively seeks out and follows bands that aren't getting much attention, but should be. That's an approach she carried over when she went to the Current, and it's an approach that I think is informing this project.

She announced it on the Current morning show. At that time, she made very brief mention of the fact that she'd been trying to put this together for a long time. Knowing what we know of MPR's audience, their desire not to challenge that audience, and of Swensson's track record, I can imagine how this all played out: What she referred to as "trying", I interpret as "fighting".

And I'd hate to see her win that fight with MPR only to lose it later. I want to see this show happen, even if it doesn't do much, big picture-wise. Even if all it means is that a small number of rappers who weren't reaching that audience before will get a brief shot at pulling a few new listeners out of it.

That's probably my own bias talking, though, because I'm the sort of guy who doesn't care if I'm performing for a crowd of two or two thousand. Either way, there's a chance I'm going to reach someone new, and I get noticeably frustrated when other artists don't take that tack. I know they have good, valid reasons, but I get emotional when talented people turn down a new gig.

On the Third Hand:

My opinion may be anomalous. I may be underestimating this showcase's importance, which may be why I'm not too bothered by the chances it could turn out less intentional, sustainable and mutually-beneficial than we'd all like.

I don't necessarily see being on the Current or MPR as a huge career move. It can be, and has been for some, and it's great when that happens and let's never prevent it.

It usually doesn't happen, though. It's usually something completely different: It's a chance to reach a few new fans, and I always encourage everyone to do that.

All that in mind, though, this show is a gig like any other. It's one of a lot of available paths:

Years ago, after In The Loop was cancelled and it looked like I would never have another shot at being one of those MPR authors (which, to date, I haven't,) I was expressing some frustration to a musician friend.

He asked, "You're worried because you don't think you'll ever get on MPR again?"

"That's exactly it," I said.

"You need to aim higher."