Tefman: "It always takes a damn crisis before we act like we care about something."
It's tough to be constructive in a conversation everyone is sick of having. About 40 people did just that Saturday afternoon at the East Madison Community Center, site of a meeting about guarding local hip-hop shows from violence and its withering aftereffects.
A recent fight during a hip-hop show at the High Noon Saloon prompted the meeting, which was organized by Karen Reece of the Madison Hip-Hop Awards and Urban Community Arts Network; artist Rob Dz; and Derrick Washington, who owns a barbershop and runs a nonprofit called Genesis International. Many present were artists or promoters, including prominent locals like DJ Pain 1, Tefman and Gary Knowledge.
"This is definitely born of community frustration," Reece said. "I'm kind of tired of it, because no other scene seems to have these problems."
The meeting began with a "sound-off" session. Comments were refreshingly varied. Dwayne Williams of WES Productions said promoters should work together to establish standards of security and behavior -- and to keep a leash on unprofessional wannabes. "You get: DJ Scritch Scratch, $2 to get in," he said archly, to laughter. "That's not how we do it."
One of many MCs in attendance, Boo Veli, even suggested that the community "embrace" those who've behaved violently at shows -- that is, understand that they come from broken homes or have other problems that precede the incidents.
Tefman, real name Dexter Patterson, said this: "It always takes a damn crisis before we act like we care about something." Clubs will open their doors again, he said. "They need us as much as we need them." He also pointedly observed that while seemingly hundreds of people seemed to be talking about recent violent incidents on Facebook, few of them came to the meeting.
One speaker noted that nobody represented Madison police at the meeting. It was not clear whether organizers had tried to get someone from the police to come.
Though many people vented anger or frustration, the mood wasn't sour or tense. If anything, people were better about hearing each other out, and avoiding silly arguments, than at a lot of public meetings I've seen.
After a break, people split into roundtable groups to workshop ideas about improving security -- and about improving the hip-hop community's relationships with venues and city government. I sat at a table dedicated to security and venue relations. The group included David Coleman, a producer and promoter who books shows at Segredo, and Montre and Rell of Ground Up Ent.
Rell pointed out the folly of hiring cheap security guards whom people in the audience know personally. "We have to get respected security guards that people don't know and aren't friendly faces," he said. He came back to a theme repeated throughout the meeting: The hip-hop community sees pressure by the city government and the police behind many venues' reluctance to book local hip-hop.
Coleman and Rell agreed that some clubs have overreacted to fights, which are bound to happen occasionally and can often be broken up without ruining the night and freaking out a crowd. "I see more fights, to be honest, at techno shows than at hip-hop shows," Coleman said. "I hate to make it a race thing, but it's a bunch of white folks [and] no one hears about it."
Reece said she'd like to hold more meetings like this one in the future. Each roundtable's leader took down notes and email addresses.
The local hip-hop community faces daunting tasks: overcoming some admitted problems, and, let's be honest, dealing with disproportionate reactions on the part of businesses and city officials. But Derrick Washington seemed to think the people at Saturday's meeting are up to the challenge.
"When I look around the room," he said during the sound-off, "I see battle-tested individuals from all walks of life."