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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The Over-21 Effect
Thursday, October 21, 2010

I turned 32 last week. For most people, 32 is still considered relatively young, but if you’re in hip-hop, or you’re a running back, 32 is downright aged. This started me thinking about one of the great ironies of hip-hop.

Hip-Hop is a youth culture. Its progenitors have almost always been young and its main audience has almost always been young. The best hip-hop, however, is found in places where kids can’t go.

Independent artists like hometown heroes Sketch Tha Cataclysm, Roc Doogie, and Chase Davis rock numerous stages every year, but those stages are almost always in bars. There’s something really wrong about the fact that artists who are trying to develop an audience are relegated to playing in places where the majority of the audience they’re trying to have hear their music can’t get in.

It’s hard enough trying to make it as an independent artist without being handcuffed to venues that don’t allow anyone under 21 inside, but this is the way it is, and it’s why there’s the occasional large disconnect between young hip-hop fans and older heads such as myself. We each have our favorite artists, but the younger generation hasn’t had the opportunity to hear many of the acts the older generation appreciates.

Previous decades saw artists performing everywhere from the street corner to the park. Remember, hip-hop was born from block parties and block parties don’t ID. Now, however, we see independent artists more concerned with booking a hot club than a finding a way to reach their true target audience. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with playing the bar scene, it’s a great scene, it’s just a limited scene, as most people who are able to get into bars are already set in their ways in terms of the music they listen to and their jadedness makes them doubly hard to win over.

The bar scene is also where artists can get a guaranteed payday. If they bring in enough people they’re taking home at least a percentage of the door. There’s no pay involved with a block party, at least not a real one, unless you move some merchandise. I have no doubts in my mind that Connecticut’s finest emcees could move plenty of albums and t-shirts after a great performance, but where are the places to play other than bars?

It’s time to start thinking outside the box. Despite what some people may have tried to turn it into, hip-hop has never been about following a pattern. If you want Lil’ Wayne’s audience (his album buying audience, not his current audience of prison guards and random inmates), go to his audience. Find them.

One of the strangest, but most honest, hip-hop moments I’ve ever had in Connecticut happened, in of all places, right in front of the Borders in Fairfield on the Post Road. I was hanging out with Chase Davis and Plus. Chase was playing us some of his new music from his car stereo with his doors open and the windows down. A couple teenagers walked by and one said his friend could rap. At first the friend, who goes by the name Synapse, or Syn for short, was a little reserved about it being that he was around two artists who, although he had just met them, he quickly realized were veterans with albums out. Eventually Chase switched the CD in his car stereo to a beat CD and a cypher started, and Synapse, along with Chase and Plus, all started freestyling.

It was a great hip-hop moment, although I’m sure it confused more than a few people who were coming out of Borders that evening, along with the folks who were just there for the free wifi. The point, however, is that it was two established emcees reaching a younger audience, by performing, albeit impromptu, in a place with no age restrictions. Everyone became fans of each other and we all grabbed a non-alcoholic beverage at Las Vetas and talked hip-hop for a few hours.

The internet was supposed to make these kinds of connections easier, but in reality, with every emcee on the internet it’s far too cluttered for anyone to be able to find anything without taking some serious time and doing the internet equivalent of crate digging. And besides, nothing beats a live performance, we just have to find a way to get our talented independent artists in front of all the young potential fans out there.

The hip-hop generation gap is real, but it’s something that can be bridged. I’m 32. I can go to any show I want to. It’s time to find new ways to bring those shows to younger audiences so our artists’ fan bases can grow.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:57 AM  
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