Broad Ripple and hip-hop: race, class and power 

Several members

Several members of the Broad Ripple Village Association have grave concerns about the kind of people weekend hip-hop club events will bring into one of the city's best-known entertainment districts.
Hip hop at the Casba: MC J Bru exchanging hip hop vibes with SPESH-ILL-K.

This has nothing to do with race, say fellow business associates and critics who are upset with John Yaggi, owner of JY's, formerly known as Eden. JY's has attracted a crowd populated predominantly by young blacks through the frequent programming of weekend hip-hop nights at the establishment.

Men like BRVA President Brad King, Vogue nightclub owner Steve Ross and City-County Councilman James Bradford contend it's purely about the potential crime risks, hazards and threat that a certain class of people may pose to the Broad Ripple community.

For them, race may not be the issue. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and call this thing what it really is - an issue about class and how ignorance, combined with the need to maintain power and control, perpetuate poor community relations.

Through my years of reporting on race-relation issues, I've discovered that many white people do not define themselves by race. When they communicate certain thoughts and feelings they are oftentimes not receptive to thinking about the racial implications of those stated thoughts and feelings.

For example, City-County Councillor Robert Massie ignited severe public outrage when he and colleague William Dowden used the terms "thugs and gorillas" to characterize the behavior of participants involved in a special town hall meeting convened to discuss community and police relations during last year's Indiana Black Expo.

"There is nothing worse than for a white person to be labeled a racist; that label cuts like a knife," Massie said, explaining that he was unaware that words such as "thugs" and "gorillas" have racial implications.

Because the burden of race has never been placed on the shoulders of many whites - as it has historically for blacks and other people of color - a white person's first thought may not be, "How would a black person feel if I said hip-hop music, the music that's created by black folks, attracts gangsters, troublemakers and people who have major attitudes and lack respect?"

Window into the spirit

What's happening in Broad Ripple is pause for reflection as it reveals a window into the spirit of a city that aspires to be a cultural tourism Mecca and boasts of being world-class. These are concepts that, in these days of heated debate over music and "types of people," make one wonder if these ideals are wishful thinking or boldface lies. To be either a cultural tourism Mecca or a world-class city requires this community to learn how to navigate its way through change as it relates to race, gender, class, age and sexual orientation.

"In order for this city to become a major city, it has to beef up its entertainment offerings," says Amp Harris, who promotes hip-hop parties at Circle Centre Mall's World Mardi Gras and several other local clubs. "And any time you deal with nightclubs and bars, the bottom line is we now live in a world where people of all races and cultures are partying with each other and people can't keep trying to paint others with such broad generalizations. This is not about hip-hop music, but about the people around the music and there needs to be honest dialogue about this."

"If hip-hop can be successfully done in Circle Centre Mall," Harris adds, "it can successfully be done in Broad Ripple." However, there appears to be an old guard of BRVA leadership that knows very little about hip-hop culture. There is an assumption that hip-hop music will lead to an influx of folks from the underworld - gang-bangers, drug dealers, rude young men and women who lack a respect for status-quo authority. Statistics, however, reveal that higher numbers of police service calls are made to Broad Ripple nightclubs such as the Vogue and other bars in the area that attract a young, suburban white clientele.

In comparing last year's police data, it was documented that 86 police calls regarding serious crimes such as robbery, auto theft and assault were made to the Vogue, a figure about three times higher than the 27 calls made to the J.Y. club address during the same reporting period.

The BRVA and its supporters need to realize that it's suburban, middle-class, white young adults who fuel hip-hop music sales - creating an environment where the music is dominating Billboard Top 40 radio playlists all over the country. Are these men fearful that Broad Ripple will become a place where young, pant-sagging, platinum jewelry- and jersey-wearing black men will mingle with their white contemporaries?

The leadership of the BRVA seems to be grappling with power and control issues. After all, as a new kid on its club-owners block, Yaggi has ignored - either through sheer ignorance or utter defiance - an alleged "gentlemen's agreement" to limit hip-hop nights.

Further, is there a double standard for how club owners, promoters and security view intoxicated and obnoxious white people versus blacks who engage in the same behavior? FYI, folks: Nightlife where alcoholic beverages are present tends to bring out the worst character traits in all people, regardless of the music that is played inside a club venue.

The Race Relations Network

At Mayor Bart Peterson's request, the Race Relations Network is looking for the motivation and causes behind reluctance to embrace hip-hop in Broad Ripple. This would not be the first time the network has had to roll up its sleeves and clock into work. As an arm of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the Race Relations Network was formed in 1965. It is made up of private and public sector leaders who have a mission to address community issues and concerns. The RRN helped local police and Indiana Black Expo resolve issues during the aftermath of excessive citizen complaints during IBE's Summer Celebration last July.

"We are trying to find out if this is racially motivated or a case of one business owner trying to keep another business owner out of making money," says Rufus "Bud" Myers, co-chair of the network, whose members also include Joe Slash of the Indianapolis Urban League, Deputy Mayor Carolyn Coleman, Carmen Hansen-Rivera and Sally Zweig.

"We are taking swift action," Myers adds, "and plan to look at police calls and crowd control strategies, while exploring how we can bring members of the Broad Ripple neighborhood and business community into dialogue with various promoters and youth who organize and attend these hip-hop nights."

A hip-hop culture primer

Let's also hope a primer on hip-hop culture will be given to the BRVA and at-large community to better educate members on how rap music is more than talk about violence, crime and degradation. It's a music that is as diverse in thematic content as rock and roll, alternative and adult contemporary music. Sometimes it appears that when anything is created by black folks there is a tendency to group it into one package: black.

Case in point, gangster rap is only one format in a big pie called hip-hop music, in the same way heavy metal is but one format within the rock and roll genre. When mainstream America hears an AC/DC recording, they clearly differentiate that sound from a tune by Indiana's own John Mellencamp, despite the fact that they both belong to the same rock musical family.

The same differentiation must be made when it comes to black music in America, especially hip-hop, because P-Diddy's brand of rap is very different from Trick Daddy's lyrical style. Our ability to truly become a home to greater cultural tourism opportunities is directly proportional to how we as a city deal with race, class, power and control. If we cannot address these issues in Broad Ripple, we will not be able to do it anywhere.

Award-winning journalist, producer and cultural critic Anare V. Holmes is the creator and producer of, an inspirational Web site focusing on personal growth and development.

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