Under Attack, Madison hip-hop community pushes back
Post by Nathan J Comp on 2/9/2012 3:13pm
If you’ve been looking for a local hip-hop show in Madison lately you’ll have noticed that there aren’t any.
They don’t exist.
Following a rash of recent fights and shootings at events in Madison, Jefferson, and Beloit, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a venue willing to book local rap battles, hip-hop concerts or DJ parties, leaving many African American residents again feeling shut out of Madison’s vibrant, and very white, nightlife.
“There is no black entertainment in Madison,” says Dion Jones, co-owner of Raw Business Entertainment, a Madison company that represents several local rap artists. “That is a fact of life here.”
The latest round of headline-making violence to embroil local hip-hop comes as a major blow to promoters and artists who’ve struggled over the last six years to resurrect hip-hop from the ruins of Club Majestic, whose two-year run as a hip-hop club between 2004 and 2006 was plagued by routine violence.
But any goodwill Madison’s hip-hop community has engendered was vanquished early Jan. 17, when a firearm was discharged inside the High Noon Saloon on East Washington Avenue, the last of Madison’s premier music venues to welcome local hip-hop acts.
“I don’t like to feel like I have to back away from [hip-hop] in order to save my venue,” says owner Cathy Dethmers. “At this point that is what I have to do. The safety of my staff, my customers, and my business as a whole are just way too important to me to take those kinds of risks.”
The de facto moratorium follows not only the closure of numerous smaller establishments that showcased local hip-hop artists but also a new wave of area violence that has stunned even the old hip-hop heads who’ve been through this before.
In early November a partygoer and a police officer were shot at a hip-hop event at a Beloit bowling alley. The officer survived; the partygoer died.
A brawl broke out at a Christmas Eve fundraiser at the Majestic, during which two men pointed handguns at venue staff, according to police reports. Though reports state that upwards of 30 people were involved in the brawl, it’s unclear if the majority of those were actually trying to break up a smaller fight.
Frida Mexican Grill on State Street was rocked by gunfire during a New Year’s Eve DJ party, and has since closed.
And, on Jan. 15, two men were shot at a hip-hop dance party in Jefferson. A Madison man has been charged with two counts of attempted murder in that incident.
Now, hip-hop supporters are again grappling with a question that has endured since hip-hop arrived in Madison in the early 1990s: How to get fans to leave the guns at home and check their aggression at the door?
At a hip-hop forum at the East Side Community Center on Feb. 4, there hung in the air profound frustration over the seeming inability of some fans to set aside rivalries and keep their emotions in check. Some pointed to the broader issue of black-on-black violence, while others called on artists to quit rapping about money, guns and bitches.
“Everyone in this room has spoken about what’s wrong,” said one fan, to an audience of mostly artists and promoters. “But everyone here has contributed to this in some way.”
The moratorium on local hip-hop has also tapped frustrations among many within the black community who feel that the city is quietly supporting, if not encouraging the moratorium, rather than working with the hip-hop community to promote safe events.
They say there’s only so much they can do alone. Without city support, or that specifically of the Madison Police Department, they fear local hip-hop will never reach its potential.
But if past is prologue, that guidance won’t be forthcoming.
The city’s response to this latest wave of violence strikes a hopeful tone, but then again it’s a variation on its response to every major violent incident at hip-hop shows over the last two decades.
“One thing the city is planning to do is look into a way that we can work with the community to figure out how we can get to a point where we’re promoting responsible, safe, live shows, without killing our local hip-hop scene,” says Madison’s alcohol policy coordinator Mark Woulf, parroting his predecessors. “It will certainly take a larger community conversation to figure that out.”