MPR/TPT-led hip-hop panel turns contentious, inward at Minneapolis' Intermedia Arts

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 3/25/2014

The nearly two-hour discussion focused on media coverage of the scene ahead of the May 10 "State of Hip-Hop" concert.

A long-overdue forum that brought back memories of the great Twin Cities Celebrations of Hip Hop and B-Girl Summits from the mid-‘00s – both of which started at the same location – the Current/Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television hosted a panel discussion on the hip-hop community’s relationship with the local media Monday night at Intermedia Arts Center in south Minneapolis. In the end, much of the discussion also centered on the community’s relationship with itself.

Local rappers Toki Wright, Desdamona, Guante, the Lioness and Slug joined the Current’s Andrea Swensson and Kevin Beacham on stage at the nearly two-hour event. It didn’t take long, though, before the microphones were being passed around the entire, standing-room-only venue. The panel was a precursor to “The State of Hip-Hop” concert that the Current and TPT’s “MN Original” series are co-hosting May 10 at the Fitzgerald Theater, details of which are still to be announced.

Monday’s panel wasn’t all negative – in fact, it mostly veered toward the positive -- but it did start out with barbed comments. Pioneering rapper TruthMaze and Freedom Radio News & Culture Network’s Ralph Crowder staged a press conference outside Intermedia Arts that called out the Current’s parent organization MPR on its lack of black staffers and questioned its understanding of urban hip-hop culture. They were way off on their figures claiming MPR only employs five African Americans among its 100 staffers – in fact, 400-plus people work at the publicly subsidized radio empire – but even most MPR staffers would agree the organization could employ more African American employees and resources.

“We want to raise the issues that are not being raised among the rappers [played on the Current] and bring more awareness for the community and culture that created hip-hop culture,” TruthMaze said.

Those complaints partially carried over indoors for the official panel. Wright said that local media “tends to cherry-pick what’s hot, and the rest of the media follows suit.” Guante (Kyle Tran Myhre) also singled out the “gatekeeper” aspect of local press and radio -- which prevents more outsider/fringe artists from getting attention -- but he also said local performers need to be more proactive in promoting themselves. “We can do better, but the media can do better, too,” he said. The Lioness (Shaiwna Adams) admitted her own ignorance of reaching out to local press and radio in the past: “It’s not going to fall in your lap,” she said. “You have to knock on doors.”

Having long been a darling of local press and the Current, Slug was put in a hard position – which was unintentionally lightened when he offhandedly remarked that City Pages is in the business of selling sex classified ads. Right on cue, his cell-phone rang, prompting laughs around the room.

“It’s good to complain, but it’s not enough,” Slug later summed up of the proceedings, pointing out that there was little to no coverage of hip-hop press when Atmosphere started out in the late-‘90s. “I’ve never seen so much emphasis on getting press than there is now.”

As microphones were passed around the room, speakers ranged from Botzy claiming that being on a recent cover of Vita.mn “didn’t mean shit” to holy hip-hop (Christian rap) vet Cross talking about how his genre “deserves a place at the table” to several participants suggesting the hip-hop community simply  needs to be more communal, and promote more from within. Also taking a stand were TruthMaze and another hip-hop pioneer, Mastermind, who claimed that the early purveyors of the Twins Cities scene have been cast aside. Mastermind reminded the crowd that hip-hop was born from inner-city black youths for whom “this was the only way for them to be heard.” He rightfully hopes their voices can still be heard in today’s expanded, ever-evolving scene.

Special note: In the spirit of Monday’s meeting, here are emails for the media representatives who were present at Monday’s meeting, all of whom can be easily reached via email and welcome submissions: [email protected]; Reed Fischer: [email protected]; David Safar: [email protected]; Jim McGuinn: [email protected]; Kevin Beacham: [email protected]; and Andrea Swensson: [email protected]