Your friendly neighbor Black Dave swinging in to say: I think that the Charleston hip-hop scene has reached a plateau of sorts. Although a year and a few months ago we were expressing our feelings about the state of acceptance of hip-hop in Charleston at Southern Discomfort, today I'm here to say that we may have very quickly reached a plateau. I think this is something that happens in all of our individual music scenes, most recently the strong run that the Hearts & Plugs bands had until Slave Baby-gate. Even back to my days of playing in legendary hardcore supergroup, EVA, we would see the same five or so local acts play any time there was a show, but at least then there were regional and national acts.
I have fired off tweets with these sentiments before, and I think it became the most clear to me after the three-day celebration brought to us by IllVibeTheTribe and DJ SCrib from Dec. 15-17. The first show, DJ SCrib & Friends, had four DJs, and we (I was one of the four) each had two pop-up performances within our sets. The weekend was a prime example of the plateau in its truest form, where in two out of the three events, we saw Sunny Malin perform. We had also just seen a performance from Emperor Timeline and Johnny Jr with SCrib playing tunes at the Manall fashion popup at Miller Gallery on Dec. 2. Stay with me here: On Dec. 1, SWIM [label Matt Monday is behind] threw an ugly Christmas Sweater benefit where myself, Illadell (who performed at the Manall event and DJ'ed at SCrib and Friends on Dec. 15) and DJ SCrib all DJ'ed. And on Nov. 18, Illadell and I threw a Mike Will Made It vs Metro Boomin party at Purple Buffalo. Sounds a bit convoluted, right? From where I'm standing, it's the same few people throwing the same few events, putting on the same few emcees and hip-hop DJs.
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My next line of thought is to find the root of this plateau. I don't think that this is the height of talent in our area. Instead, I think we have collectively decided to champion a few artists and are either comfortable with what we have, or are uninterested in branching out more. While I'm one of the biggest "It's not my job to put people on" proponents of the bunch, I've also done my part in putting on monthly shows via my culture blog-turned-clothing brand, Charleston Hype, for about a year and a half without repeating an act.
I think as the people putting on the shows, we have the power to decide who's going to be performing at our events, and in choosing the same people over and over again, we've created this bubble that we have grown comfortable functioning within, and it has our growth as a hip-hop community at a plateau. Another theory is that the artists aren't actually putting forth enough of an effort in the direction of the tastemakers, influencers, gatekeepers, promoters, and the like. I think a lot of artists believe that if you create great art, then the following will come, but I don't think that's the case. I am a firm believer that good work helps, but finding the right inroads to opportunity is one of the real keys.
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In regard to solutions, I've boiled it down to a couple of possibilities. First, we can take what we have and try to elevate it to heights that will garner more and more attention. I don't necessarily consider this a bad idea, although it will definitely alienate many artists from the equation. That said, if we put a very focused effort on growing the artists we're currently working with — using our status as tastemakers to help elevate awareness around a small bunch — there's a possibility that it can continue to grow. The obvious downside to this is that people may get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Hell, I'm tired of it and I'm one of the people putting on the events.
The other solution I see is to keep continuing to grow the base of artists we have and use that as a catalyst to grow the culture around us. I can speak for many when I say that hip-hop, rap, whatever you want to call it, is very segregated across Charleston and the state, and that coming together could be just as viable a solution as going extra hard on what we're already working with. One thing that has rung true for me over the years, in trying this route, is that a lot of the other existing scenes don't actually function at the same level of quality or taste that I do, and sometimes not seeing eye to eye on a few of the details will mess with collaboration and commingling in the future (Also, talking spicy about Sabrina from IllVibeTheTribe puts you in the same category).
Whether we come up with a solution or continue to work organically until something falls into place, I think pointing out possible weak areas within a structure is a perfect opportunity to make the structure stronger, especially when it's as free-flowing and somewhat malleable. I also want to see more Walter Brown, more Mossy B 4 Prez, more Salis [Catch Salis Fri. Jan. 12 at the Purple Buffalo for Live From the Underground III: UGK vs. OutKast], and more Phresh on our stages.