Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

The Great Milwaukee Hip-Hop Debate Continues

By Evan Rytlewski
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RadioMilwaukee's Tarik Moody ignited a torrent of discussion with his blog post last week asking "is Milwaukee afraid of hip-hop?" and wondering in particular why the city has hosted so few touring national hip-hop acts lately. I responded with some of my theories, positing that there are politics and financial disincentives turning promoters away from hip-hop, though certainly nothing prohibiting them from it altogether, while the A.V. Club's Steve Hyden made the necessary point that while there isn't much touring hip-hop coming to Milwaukee, the local hip-hop scene is stronger and better supported than it has been in years.

At the other end of the spectrum from those posts is today's buttle from The Mad Chef at the music blog Seizure Chicken. Its full of populist rage, hip-hop righteousness  and allegations of racism at all levels of the city. I really can't say I agree with much of it, but it echoes many widely held sentiments. "To say this is an issue of race is almost a cop out, but in this instance, it is pertinent," he writes. "In fact, apart from that solitary show and an African dance fundraiser, the only African-American musicians scheduled to appear on any of the Pabst’s stages are Booker T. and B.B. King. Apparently Milwaukee will only come out to see over-the-hill blues artists who have been commercialized to the point of harmlessness."

Several readers e-mailed me saying they tried to comment on this blog unsuccessfully over the last week—I apologize for the inconvenience, our web team is reworking our comments engine. I'm going to post one of those aborted comments, though, since I think it makes a crucial point. It's from Dave Snyder, of the U.S. Cellular Arena and Milwaukee Theatre:

For the record, the U.S. Cellular Arena and Milwaukee Theatre, metro Milwaukee's second and third largest indoor venues, have hosted the following, independently-promoted rap, hip-hop and r&b shows over the past five years:

- Mario, B5, 112 and Bobby Valentino (AR) 07/01/05
- Ladies Night Out featuring Ginuwine, Jagged Edge, Donell Jones, Case and Ne-Yo (MT) 02/16/06
- R. Kelly as Mr. Show Biz: The Light It Up Tour (MT) 04/28/06
- Street Dream Tour: Young Jeezy, Lil' Wayne & Baby, Jim Jones and Rich Boy (AR) 04/12/07
- Holiday Jam featuring Lil Wayne with Soulja Boy and Playaz Circle (AR) 12/28/07
- International Takeover featuring T.I., Keysha Cole, Young Jeezy, Plies, Shawty Lo and Rocko (AR) 07/05/08
- JAMFEST 2008 featuring Lil Boosie & Webbie, Yung Berg and Hurricane Chris (AR) 10/11/08
- Spring Jam 2009 with Gucci Mane, Trey Songz, Colby O'Donis & special guest Bow Wow (AR) 3/21/09
- Keyshia Cole: A Different Me Tour with The Dream, Keri Hilson and Bobby V (MT) - 5/14/09
- R Kelly: Ladies Make Some Noise Tour (MT) 11/15/09

Rap/hip-hop history there dates at least to a Run DMC show in the old Auditorium in July of 1986. The facilities are publicly owned and available for rental by any promoter who can meet specific financial and legal obligations. Since the birth of rock & roll, let alone hip-hop, this position has survived numerous controversies and political calls to restrict what kind of acts may perform there.

Some of those shows were better promoted and better attended than others, but all were free of major controversy or incident. Even at city-owned venues, the door is always open to rap music—even in its most "urban" form—it's just a matter of promoters opting to book it. Much as any organizer with the funding can bring Gucci Mane to the U.S. Cellular Arena, any game promoter could just as easily bring Mos Def, MF Doom or the Kidz in the Hall to the city if they wanted to.

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