"The bodies that come through these rap shows will no longer be martyrs for indecision."
We’ve reached this precipice again... the perpetual impasse where deep-rooted racism and classism choose to intersect with the self-preservationist nature of venue owners who want to “protect their own” no matter the circumstances. In less coded language: another venue is banning hip-hop another time in the wake of another isolated incident that stands symbolically attached to anyone who enjoys a breakbeat or an 808.
In another unprecedented move of poor PR and even poorer decision-making, Darwin Sampson has decided to put hip-hop on ice for a year at The Frequency—a venue he co-owns—in the wake of an incident at a private party on the evening of March 2. Allegedly, several women had an altercation during this event, which led to a post on The Frequency’s Facebook page on March 3 declaring a year-long ban on hip-hop shows until the venue staff can properly assess how to deal with violence and the threat of violence at their establishment. (Editor's note: The Frequency's Facebook post has since been taken down, and comments on the venue's Facebook wall have been shut down. Screenshot of the post below.)
When a boycott of similar ilk occurred in January 2013, I was but a sophomore looking for a story in my Journalism 202 class. The topic was “Wordplay & Warfare” and I had the opportunity to interview Darwin after his team decided to impose a hip-hop ban after a shot rang off during a show. During that time, I had the opportunity to read the racist clause in his lease where his landlord declared that playing hip-hop in any form—even on the jukebox or loudspeaker—is a violation of that lease. Darwin felt empathetic to the cause; that this ban was not something he wanted to do, but felt necessary to protect his own assets since he was contractually going out of his way to technically violate the terms of his lease to hopefully play a role in fostering a community.
My 19-year-old mind was appeased by this explanation. My 22-year-old mind does not take kindly either to history’s repetition or to having the same conversation where hip-hop is the scapegoat once violence occurs.
The Frequency’s owners and team have a right to protect their staff. They have a right to book whomever they please. They have a right to strategize on how to improve their operations to maximize the quality of the events they throw. All considered, they should hold the responsibility to understand that taking the premature leap to impose another ban on hip-hop—a genre originating from and championing the narratives of oppressed and underrepresented people—is merely reflecting a massive cultural disconnect while perpetuating the systems that made space for hip-hop culture to exist in the first place.
Fights happen at shows of any and all genres. People drink liquor and act a fool. This will never change. The stark difference I’m seeing in this Madison moment—compared to the Madison I knew three years prior—is that we are living in a time where more and more residents are becoming conscientious of the racist, classist, and segregated reality we’re drowning in. We’re three days away from a year since Tony Robinson’s murder. The Race to Equity Report illustrates how children of color are pipelined to poverty and prison e.g. slavery. In short, Madison’s image of being paved with streets of progressive gold is slowly shattering.
Then they ban the rap shows again.
I can assure you that the bodies that come through these rap shows—white, black, brown, yellow, women, queer, poor, rich, anyone who respects the craft—will no longer be martyrs for indecision. And we will not bring our money. And we will not bring our talent.
With that said, I have questions… some for The Frequency, some for the community at large:
- As one of the co-founders of the new WIPE ME DOWN dance party that hosted its inaugural event in The Frequency on my birthday this past January 29, how would I dare disrespect my constituents by pursuing a lead on the second party if the venue targets me or anyone who shares my passion for this art?
- When staff members share their utter shock that WIPE ME DOWN had no shootings or stabbings with no security—something they told the resident DJ personally—how can I proceed with my tongue bleeding from being the diplomatic one?
- When “hip-hop” and “rap” are codewords for “niggers who cause trouble”—especially in Madison, where a bevy of its contributors, promoters, and curators are older white individuals—where can we find our home and who represents the community?
- Am I still welcome because I hold a Journalism bachelor’s from UW-Madison and I’m not perceived to be a “Chicago thug” who doesn’t know his place?
- Are people like my homie milo still welcome because plenty of his white fans perceive him to be more “intelligent” than what’s on the radio?
- Will any promoter or booker need to show an SAT or GRE score before e-mailing to do business?
- Do rap shows need martial law to function properly?
- Why not just ban all rap instead of throwing what’s already listed and holding off for the rest of the year?
None of these problems are Madison-exclusive, but Madison’s backhanded approach in confronting oppression with more oppressive approaches—on a personal and systemic level—are the precise reason why independent artists, especially artists of color, come to Madison and find no reason to pursue staying power. I’ve lived and performed here long enough to see a point where Wisconsin’s hip-hop and DIY scenes are at their most powerful; thanks to programs like First Wave and artists like PHOX and Trapo and Ra’Shaun and WebsterX/New Age Narcissism who are receiving national attention for their work. Now is not the time for any venue or promotion company to voluntarily stifle a movement that will be responsible for Madison’s traction to finally spill into the national consciousness.
To note my disappointment behind this decision would be tired at worst, exasperating at best. Instead, here are a few recommendations:
- Acknowledge that biases and oppressive forces are at work, and actively engage with communities who tell you they’re dissatisfied.
- Don’t blame hip-hop for a culture of violence and drunken escapades when you can walk downtown Thursday through Sunday to a sea of white faces flaunting the same tendencies in public.
- If artists or their fanbases cause problems at a venue and make no effort to build or repair a rapport to alleviate these issues in the future, don’t book these artists anymore.
- Furthermore, apply the same approach across genres instead of targeting genres from marginalized groups of color to reinforce implicit bias and systemic oppression.
- Pay the security guards what they deserve to do their jobs, but don’t over-police shows to the point where they foster a negative environment and discourage people from coming.
- Don’t be mad when the free market turns against you for making decisions against the public.
Until The Frequency staff gets their shit together and is willing to focus on creating productive solutions to their issues without silencing entire communities at once, I’m boycotting the venue as a performer and a patron. No More Parties on West Main. If you love hip-hop like I do, even if you love hip-hop with a single iota of your soul, I am imploring you to follow suit. This is not exclusive to my comrades in Madison’s hip-hop scene… I mean indie bands, pop stars, metal heads, and anyone else who gives them business. Cease doing so immediately because we all hold the major key to highlighting the errors of such a terrible statement to censor an entire community.
No matter where I stand, I wish safety, good health, and a speedy recovery to the Frequency staff member who was sent to the ER for injuries sustained in last night’s incident.