Last Night: The Black Face of Hip-Hop at Langston Hughes

Yesterday evening, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center was filled with energy and anticipation as a group of panelists participated in a forum entitled "The Black Face of Hip-hop." It was a part of the CDForum's "Why Way Seattle? Series," sponsored by the Dope Emporium, and specifically addressed the role of black artists in the Northwest hip-hop community.

The panel included rapper, Silas Blak, one-half of the Silent Lambs Project, poet/MC Laura "Piece" Kelly, Tony Benton from KUBE FM, and music business mogul Dave Meinert. Before this event took place, certain folks I talked to were disappointed in the panelists that were selected citing reasons why all of them were irrelevant. I thought that was a harsh critique ahead of time so I went into yesterday's panel discussion with an open mind. I'm also the same writer that penned this story on the subject so I did have a strong interest in seeing where this discussion went.

I've got to say that, while I'm glad the topics of race and its role in local hip-hop were addressed in a public forum, I'm a little disappointed that more progress wasn't achieved. And that more major players from the music community in Seattle (i.e. venue owners) weren't on hand. A big portion of the conversation dealt with the notion that many black hip-hop artists currently feel locked out of the correct avenues locally to be successful.

That covers everything from not getting booked on major music festivals to lack of radio play, etc. I think the owner of Chop Suey or Neumos or the Paramount, etc, should have been there... or at least invited! Instead, Dave Meinert, the lone white male panelist, was forced to absorb the frustrations of an entire community--and in my opinion, that's not fair. It felt like, well if there are culprits holding blacks back from succeeding in the Northwest music world, they sure got off easy last night.

I will say that Meinert handled his role on the panel fairly well, and he brought up some good points. To paraphrase some of his arguments, you can't expect everyone else to open doors for you. And you've also got to know who to reach out to and when. Because he owns the Capitol Hill Block Party, he mentioned his experience with artists who approach him and want to play it. But Meinert isn't responsible for booking the Block Party, and knowing who the correct person is does makes a difference. It's about having access to the right people.

Kelly seemed to agree with that, but her arguments were more based around working hard, "putting your nose to the grind stone" and making things happen for yourself. Although Kelly is of mixed race (and I won't bother speaking for which group she identifies with) she undoubtedly was speaking for the underclass and the role that spoken-word poetry and hip-hop had in her life. I liked a lot of what she had to say. Hearing her talk about teaching poetry workshops in juvenile detention centers was compelling -- don't get me wrong -- but did it really have anything to do with the topic at hand? If the discussion suffered from anything last night, it was that people didn't attack the subject aggressively enough and time was wasted.

Tony B --as a lot of people call him -- seemed to be the most out of place on the panel, and that was shameful. Considering that he works at Seattle's only urban (esque) music station, Kube 93, a station that rarely (from what I can tell) plays local artists during prime-time slots, he wasn't even asked about the subject. His comments about the historical role of black artists in the entertainment world, dating back to the minstrel days, seemed like it was of little significance. I know it's a Clear Channel station, but damn, the moderator could have asked him to speak on the subject of why local music gets relegated to off hours. He had a knowledge base that felt the most under-utilized all night.

Silas Blak definitely did his best to keep people focused. At least three times, he reminded the panelists to stay on topic and not wander off talking about irrelevant stuff. It also seemed like the audience felt him the most. One thing that stood out was that all of the panelists appeared to be over 32, which was odd. Hip-hop has always been a vehicle for the youth to speak out. Obviously people grow up, but there could have been some younger artists represented last night.

We'll see if they do a follow up discussion. As a new person to Seattle, I was glad to see a lot of people come out and support this event. However, there was also a lot of knowledge in the audience that wasn't tapped as well. DV One, Jake One, Gabriel Teodoros, Jonathan Moore, and several college professors were on hand, and never got the opportunity to say a thing. In my opinion, instead of having four talking heads speaking at the audience, it would be great if the folks at the CDForum could find a way to engage the crowd of youth and elders in a better way next time so that more progress can be made.

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