I physically cringed when I read yesterday's headline that a fight had broken out and arrests made (including that of Rob Dz, one of the area's most well-respected emcees) at a local hip-hop show at the Brink Lounge. Great, I thought, just what we need more of in Madison, another excuse for people to stigmatize the music based on the actions of a few bad actors.
Lo and behold, I (and many others) was sadly right: The Brink has now officially decided to stop booking hip-hop acts all together.
The Daily Page reports on several elements of the incident that I had only suspected, but do now look to be the case. That police likely responded with excessive force, quickly and needlessly escalating a situation that was, by the time they'd arrived, well under control. Sixteen MPD officers (plus an undisclosed number of Capitol Police) showed up when called about a fight between two women at the show. How is that at all reasonable? They then peppersprayed and arrested several of the event's performers for, as far as I can tell, trying to 1) get their equipment out of the building, and 2) protest when they saw what they felt to be excessive force being used on the female suspects.
I wasn't there, so I can't make any definite judgments on how things were handled and why, but after hearing from several witnesses and people directly effected, I can't help but suspect that this was a case of inappropriate action on the part of the MPD, based mostly on the overall stigma now associated with hip-hop in this city.
It's an absolute shame, too. As mentioned in the Daily Page article, "...media and political attention to hip-hop in Madison is focused on negative matters and doesn’t focus on positive events like recent shows geared towards registering voters, collecting winter coats for the indigent, or raising money for a child with cancer."
Every experience I've had with Wisconsin hip-hop artists has been an overall positive one. A lot of the emcees and DJs do a lot of work in the community to not only bolster the profile of their music, but to help kids find a productive purpose in life, to do community organizing, and to work on behalf of social justice issues. Hell, sometimes what they do is just artistic expression without any immediate or grander purpose, but that's just as valid.
The problem isn't with the genre as a whole (you could make an argument against certain specific artists glorifying violence, etc., but I can't think of one single local musician who'd fit that profile). The problem is with individuals who happen to be in the audience and decide to do something stupid. But that happens at shows of all different genres. I'd be really curious to see statistics on fights and other disturbances breaking out at live shows in general, and if there's any correlation between their frequency and corresponding genre. I doubt it.
So now, based on ill-founded but widespread fears, hip-hop artists have one less venue to play in town. We could start focusing on regular ol' security issues, good capacity and organization regulations, and personal responsibility - or we can keep choking out an otherwise vibrant and relevant form of artistic expression. Which is it, Madison?