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Hip Hop (Un)Scene: Smells Like Scene Spirit

When artists don't reach outside their safety zones, music stagnates

By ill poetic · March 9th, 2010 · Music
Last week I proclaimed MySpace dead. A lot of people agreed, others didn’t. Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong. To its credit, I will say that MySpace taught me a valuable lesson.

Way back in 2005, as I would get friend requests I'd always look at a person’s musical preferences. Most of the time these people, no matter what age, race or gender, would have the most versatile list of artists and genres on their playlist. In the digital euphoria of MySpace, it seemed that everyone listened to everything. In the digital world, it seemed as if every artist was influenced by every genre of music they could get their hands on.

It was really encouraging to see this, since in the “real world” of the music scene it felt like people only listened to and attended events for the music they liked or, better yet, were supposed to like.

Mind you, this was 2005-06, so I could feel a shift coming (and we are in the midst of this shift), but at its core a lot of things in the typical “music scene” haven’t really changed. So let’s dig into this a little bit.

Why are local scenes so split? Not to say there aren’t people who venture to other scenes in the city, but the majority stays put in their comfort zone. I could make this point for most music scenes in the city, but I’ll stick to Hip Hop since that’s what the column’s title tells me this is about.

My original plan for this article was to tell the “artist” how to maneuver through a local scene, but I couldn’t really bring myself to write it without questioning the idea of a scene itself. How can you maneuver through something so big and small at the same time? How can you maneuver through something that’s constantly changing and evolving, yet somehow at its core remains exactly the same?

Before you can answer any of these questions, you’d have to dissect what a scene encompasses, good and bad.

The most interesting thing about a music scene is realizing how many small scenes it’s really comprised of. In fact, if you were to keep dissecting a music scene into all of its micro-scenes, I’m pretty sure it would just be hundreds of little scenes with about five people apiece in them.

So when does a micro-scene of the local scene go from specializing in a certain vibe and representing it to closing off people who don’t fit perfectly in but still genuinely love the vibe? What happens when this is the precedent for how the scene is built? What happens when a scene turns into a high-school lunchroom, separating the nerds, the athletes and the artists? Didn’t we become musicians to escape the whole caste system thing?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but I do know this: When artists don’t reach outside of their safety zones, music stagnates. Artists end up collaborating only with like-minded friends, not reaching into and experiencing the scenes around them.

I don’t mean this to come off as condescending by any means, more just an open invitation to open imaginations. It’s a recession. Musicians don’t have shit except an imagination and time on their hands. We might as well make the most of it. As I said in the first column, with the structure of the music industry shifting so quickly toward independent artists and scenes, now is a perfect time to reach across genres and create new sounds and ideas that help to define the feel of this city and region.

I rarely single out an artist or event in this article, in fear that I’ll leave someone or something out and end up pissing everyone off. But I will highlight this because I feel it’s even bigger than the people involved in it: For the past two years, on a Thursday evening, you can walk freely into Baba Budan’s near the University of Cincinnati and witness poets, rappers, Reggae artists, Folk singers and more taking turns expressing themselves. When this event started, I fell in love with it. It became even more incredible when the artists of different genres began to collaborate a build new sounds and ideas.

Merging imagination to create communal emotion is amazing, and the artists that perform a Baba’s open mic understand that. No pretensions, no ego, no bullshit. Just music and love. A nirvana.

This is what I see as the potential for something greater than a party, an event or an artist “blowing the scene up.” This is the type of creative vibe that builds the potential for something no single person can create.

It’s people led by art and not art led by people.

This is the scene I fell in love with, and it’s the scene I challenge all of us to continue building. We owe it to ourselves and to the generation who will one day continue its legacy.

ILL POETIC performs April 3 at Rohs Street Cafe as part of the Clifton Heights Festival.

CONTACT ILL POETIC: music@citybeat.com



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