Roundtable

Inaugural Indianapolis Hip-Hop Festival

Saturday, Aug. 27, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.

United States of Mind, 40th and Boulevard

Admission: $8; ages 12 and under free

The first Indianapolis Hip-Hop Festival will be held from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Untied States of Mind, located at 40th and Boulevard. Participating in the event will be a wide range of Hoosier rappers, DJs and producers ranging from DJ Indiana Jones to the Mudkids to acts from Fort Wayne and other parts of the state. Rhymewise of Sub-Surface

It's the first event of its kind in recent history - and its goals are ambitious. In addition to performances, two hours of free workshops will cover everything from break-dancing to the art of rhyming to producing one's own beats.

NUVO assembled a roundtable of participants from around the state to talk about this important cultural event. Joining in the conversation were Sankofa, an MC from Fort Wayne; Rhymewise of Sub-Surface, a Fort Wayne rhyme family; Matt Lawrence, graffiti artist; Bobby Burnham, break-dancer, poet; T.J. Reynolds, MC, producer, operator of United States of Mind; Ryan "Sweaty B" Williams, bassist, impresario; and Steve Hammer, NUVO's music editor.

SH: So why a hip-hop festival in Indianapolis?

TJ: It's something that a lot of people have wanted to do for a long time. The main reason for it is that I don't think that Indianapolis is thought of as a hip-hop city, even though there's a whole lot of the culture being represented here. The biggest difference between Indianapolis and cities more well-known for their hip-hop scene is networking. It's working together in groups. So we're trying to get everyone to bridge together and create a cohesive scene. Part of that is to have a venue where hip-hop has a home in Indianapolis, especially an all-ages venue. The kids are the most important thing when it comes to music; they create the scene. And judging from the reaction we've had, I think it's something Indianapolis wants to support.

SH: It seems like whenever there's a talented MC or DJ or even graffiti artist, there's a tendency for them to want a scene built up around them instead of being part of something bigger.

TJ: I do see that and that's one of the things we're trying to take advantage of with the festival. Take all these different groups with all their different crowds and check out all the other groups. Familiarize each other with all these things happening over the city and create one large pool of people. And I think there's a lot of people who are into hip-hop in Indianapolis who don't necessarily know all of what's going on in the city. Hopefully this will cause people to get invested in the scene a little more.

BB: I've been somewhat in the scene for five or six years and I've seen that. It's like crabs in a barrel. One gets to the top and another grabs him and pulls him down because he's not at the top, too. I'm sitting here next to Matt, and I've never even met him before today, and I'm supposed to be part of hip-hop in the city? The festival will not only bring people from Indianapolis together but also people from Fort Wayne, hopefully break-dance crews from around the Midwest.

ML: There are too many egos involved. As soon as people do get to a certain point in their career, they tend to leave the city instead of building it up.

SH: I'd be interested to hear what one of you from Fort Wayne has to say about that, whether it's the same there.

RM: The whole thing behind MCing is ego, and some people get caught into that and aren't interested in helping everyone else. It's that way until a scene gets established. Once it does, then people want to gather around and build each other up. Until then, everyone wants to be that top dog or whatever. Our scene is starting to build a little bit without that one big person. There are people making big strides for our city, but there's still that struggle to get there.

SH: Maybe you can talk about that, Ryan. Just a few years ago, rock bands locally were more competitive and saw each other as competition, whereas now it's more of a cooperative thing where people want to help each other more.

RW: There's always going be an element of the battle, because that's a part of hip-hop's culture and history, so there's always going to be MCs and DJs going after one another. But I think people are starting to see there's a large talent pool here and that's raising the bar for everyone.

BB: It just seems like we're in a baby city. It takes a few years for people to see each other. After awhile, you stop trying to prove yourselves to each other and start to work with each other.

T.J. Reynolds of United States of Mind

RM: Being from outside the city, getting to do an event as big as this is important for us. Up there, we hear about how Indianapolis is really hopping, and here's a chance for Indy to see that Fort Wayne has some things popping, too.

RW: All the bands in this lineup have played shows together before. But this isn't like a midnight show at the Patio. Those are great, but this is for everyone in the community. It's not just a simple show, it's taking everything that's part of hip-hop - that includes the break-dancing, that includes the graffiti mural - and puts it in one place for people to experience.

TJ: Hopefully, from this people will guest on each other's records and such. One of the things I'm excited about is that there's going to be a freestyle cipher tent going on all day. MCs and others into hip-hop will be able to just go off the dome with each other and experience what it's like to have people push each other to the next level. Not in a cutthroat way, but an inspirational way. That's the element where hip-hop is most alive, just flowing with each other. Even if you never wanted to make an album, there's gotta be a night where you're just getting silly with your friends and start freestyling.

SH: T.J., you've talked about this being an event for the neighborhood near United States of Mind as well as for the city.

TJ: The workshops from 3 to 5 p.m. are targeted for the youth and admission is free for children 12 and under. I see kids all the time around the neighborhood who are into hip-hop, but when I see an 8-year-old kid singing, "My neck, my back ..." I kind of cringe a little bit. So this is about giving them an example of how hip-hop can have a positive impact and come from a different angle. They can have an outlet for expressing themselves. Sometimes parents discourage their children from participating in art because they don't see the opportunities. So I want to give some young performers some exposure so that when they grow up, the scene will be 10 times as strong.

ML: Graffiti has a negative connotation. The media portrays it as gang-related. But this festival can shed new light on what it can be, that it can be a positive thing as well. Right now, the penalties are a lot stiffer for graffiti. You used to pay a fine and go through a diversion program. Now they want to make an example of you.

Sankofa: It should be recognized as an artform and not just a form of marketing. It's people having fun. It's not about being seen and get a rep for doing something stupid, it's about enjoying myself. I don't feel the need to do something stupid to have fun. It's great to see people getting lost in the moment.

Other places I go to, I see people try to start a fight or spark something, but when I came to United States of Mind, it was just a positive experience.

RM: I don't know Indianapolis that well, but United States of Mind seems to be centrally located and I think that it's dope that it's taking place somewhere where everyone can go.

BB: Everybody knows where 40th and Boulevard is. I've worked with inner-city kids from the Southside, and they kind of questions your legitimacy sometimes. I say, "Man, I'm from 40th and Boulevard," and they're like, woah.

RW: United States of Mind is part of the neighborhood and part of the culture.

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