You’ve probably been hearing a lot in local media this week about a new report on equity in music and the arts. It comes from the City of Madison’s Task Force on Equity in Music and Entertainment, a body that was formed in 2017 after years of pushing from hip-hop artists and their advocates in the community. The 34-page report offers 31 specific recommendations for cutting down on discrimination against hip-hop artists and other artists of color in Madison’s music community. The task force includes hip-hop artists including Rob Dz and Protege The Pro, city officials, venue owners including Matt Gerding of the Majestic and FPC live and former Frequency owner Darwin Sampson, and community activists, including task force chair Dr. Karen Reece, president of Madison’s Urban Community Arts Network.
If you’re wondering why there’s a report, and why there’s a task force dealing with this specific issue: Madison has a long history of overreacting to occasional problems at hip-hop shows, and this creates a chilling effect that makes venues back off on booking hip-hop. Empirical evidence shows that hip-hop shows are no more prone to violence than shows featuring other genres of music, but when something does go wrong at a hip-hop show, the hammer comes down hard—from cops, from venue owners, from landlords, from city officials including those on the powerful Alcohol License Review Committee. It’s a cycle that has repeated itself over and over again. At different times in the past decade, multiple venues have even declared bans on hip-hop to one extent or another, including The Frequency and the Brink Lounge.
What’s significant about the report is that it tries to understand the struggles of hip-hop in a holistic context—it considers everything from policing to transportation to the need for venues outside of central Madison. The issues that undermine hip-hop are also the issues that make structural racism such a persistent force in Madison. Reece spoke with us about the report earlier this week, just before presenting the report to the city of Madison’s Common Council.
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