Report looks at ways to foster hip-hop scene

December 2, 2018

Live hip-hop music and local hip-hop culture would find a more welcoming home in Madison under recommendations in a report scheduled to go before the City Council Tuesday.

The 34-page document from the city’s Task Force on Equity in Music and Entertainment — initiated by members of the local hip-hop community and nine years in the making — calls for the creation of a full-time staff position in the mayor’s office paying $60,000 per year, focused exclusively on promoting equity on the local entertainment scene.

The report also calls for required training in “anti-bias practices” for all staff at bars and music spots; better public transportation to entertainment venues from neighborhoods around the city; and city support for a music festival in the next five to 10 years that would showcase hip-hop music, dance and visual arts.

“I think this is a great start,” said Karen Reece, chair of the task force and president of the Urban Community Arts Network, or UCAN, formed in 2011 to support musicians, professional growth and alliances with city agencies regarding the local hip hop scene. “Change happens slowly.”

Though an American art form that has spread worldwide and permeates modern culture — from arts to advertising, politics to fashion — hip hop music remains a marginalized art form in Madison. Events featuring local talent have been largely absent in the city since incidents of violence at shows made headlines in the early 2000s. Since then, groups like UCAN and the Madison Hip Hop Awards have tried to reopen the doors for local hip hop artists, but it has been challenging.

The task force report bluntly calls racism “the number-one barrier to maintain diverse entertainment catering to patrons of color,” and notes that “while Madison has often topped lists of ‘most livable’ cities, it has also topped lists as the worst place to live for Black citizens.”

“We see young professionals of color leaving the city specifically because they don’t have a social network or social system here,” Reece said.

“It’s a really important part of making sure that we maintain the diversity and vitality of our city. And for the artists who are putting on these events, it’s not only an important part of their music career, but a way for them to sometimes supplement their income or make their entire income off of the music industry and throwing events,” she said. “So it’s a really important part of addressing economic disparity.”

The task force report calls for better training in cultural competency for Madison police, local media and city public relations staff. It cites a study by UW-Madison sociology students last year that found, by analyzing police calls in Madison, that levels of violence at live shows “are essentially the same across all genres of music from folk to karaoke to Hip-Hop to metal,” the report said.

One of the main purposes of the task force “was to put a spotlight on this conversation in general,” said member Matt Gerding, co-president of FPC Live, which books acts in local clubs the Sylvee, High Noon Saloon, Orpheum and the Majestic. The Majestic will host an all-ages showcase of Wisconsin hip-hop artists on Jan. 12.

“It’s come up in various forms throughout the course of the last 10 or so years,” Gerding said. “Part of the goal, I think, was to put pen to paper and see if there are things within city policy that can be used to help address some of the inequity in what we’ve seen in the music landscape in this city.”

Reece expects the task force report on Tuesday to go to council committees for review. The report, which does not contain cost estimates for its implementation, also will be circulated among the local hip hop community for feedback, starting with a “Level Up” music industry conference scheduled for Saturday in Downtown Madison, she said.

“Level Up” takes the place of this year’s Madison Hip Hop Awards, which will return in 2019, Reece said.

The 11-member Task Force on Equity in Music and Entertainment included musicians, promoters, business owners, a college student and city officials.

“One thing that surprised me a little bit was how quickly the task force members aligned on the core issues,” Reece said. “I was expecting a little more debate around identifying racism as being one the major factors that interferes with seeing equity in our nightlife. ... But I was surprised that we reached consensus on the root causes pretty quickly.”