As American music’s often misunderstood stepchild, hip hop has grown into one of the most prevalent genres of music in popular culture today. Only in existence over the last 40 years, hip hop has managed to create a complete sub-culture that has expanded into international acclaim.
But where in Savannah can we explore this bewildering culture of music enveloped in stories of pain, glory, tragedy and triumph?
In a city so deeply rooted in music, you would think that a force like hip hop would be easy to find. Such is not the case – but why?
While exploring downtown Savannah, you are going to stumble upon few establishments that incorporate hip hop into their normal weekly line ups.
Barrelhouse South stands less than one year old, yet manages to bring an eclectic array of performances to their venue. Robert Hall, in charge of event booking, explains that they showcase regional acts spanning numerous genres. Among these acts are a number of hip hop and funk shows, featuring names like KidSyc@Brandywine and Dope Sandwich.
Next door on Congress Street, the longest running weekly musical event in Savannah is held: Hip Hop night at The Jinx.
Every Tuesday for the past 11 years, hip hop artists covering all styles and backgrounds congregate to display their skills for peer review. Steven Baumgardner has been hosting Hip Hop Night for the majority of its run. His contribution to the local hip hop scene makes him recognized as one of the founding members of the record label Dope Sandwich. According to Baumgardner, “There’s a lot of really good artists around here. They might not have the outlets that I feel should be more open to them.”
The outlets that Baumgardner speaks of were seemingly eliminated upon the unveiling of hip hop’s new image. Hip hop’s name became synonymous with violence, especially among African-American youth. In present, culture “gangster rap” or “trap rap”, sub-genres of hip hop, are very popular. These subgenres portray stories of the rise from poverty, containing graphic images of violence.
Camouflage was a well-known Savannah rapper that was on the brink of stardom before his untimely death in mid-2003. “When Hip Hop Night was getting big, that was around the time of Camouflage dying. The media was just taking that ‘look how violent it is, Camouflage died’ perspective,” Baumgardner said.
The violent image of Hip Hop has undeniably grown over the last 25 years. Hip hop is not only about life’s struggles, and sometimes accompanying violence; in many ways, it is a celebration of lessons learned. However, hip hop’s violent image is not the exclusionary factor for all. Jeff De Rosa, bar manager of The Treehouse, views hip hop with a different perspective. He claims the profitability of live hip hop shows is not as favorable as a DJ with Top Forty dance music. He also believes that the appeal of paying money to see an unknown act is not matched to that of spending money on alcoholic beverages in bars with no covers.
In theory, this makes sense because Savannah is a tourist town. Today’s often eclectic music listener is bound to recognize and enjoy a long lineup of hip hop classics.
The names of rappers that continuously perform downtown are few and far between. Most of what would be considered “mainstream” rap artists perform outside of the downtown area at venues like Karma nightclub and Island Breeze. As time passes and the cultural melting pot that is the U.S. continues to thicken, it is important to remember to add in new flavors. Incorporating new tastes will only reveal a savory outcome.