“A cultural response manifested into a show” is how this Saturday’s “Boston Answering” show at the Strand Theatre in Boston is described by its organizers, Boston booking and audio and video production outfit HipStory.
The lineup features Greater Boston hip hop artists Red Shaydez, Forté and Cliff Notez, as well as piano pop from Photocomfort and disco funk from VQnC. The show’s name is aimed squarely at the Boston Calling Music Festival, the three-day extravaganza in Allston that’s the city’s biggest music event.
“It’s a complicated thing,” says rapper Cliff Notez, who owns HipStory with saxophonist Tim Hall. “The whole thing isn’t essentially HipStory goes to war with Boston Calling. It’s less about the wrongs Boston Calling has done or the good they failed to do, but the good one city can do, that we have done, and that we continue to do.”
Boston’s hip-hop scene is ascendant. At the 2018 Boston Music Awards last December, hip hop dominated. Cousin Stizz was named artist of the year. Cliff Notez won new artist of the year. Oompa was named unsigned artist of the year. Latrell James’s “Okay” won song of the year. STL GLD was live artist of the year. Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist” was awarded video of the year.
But hip hop artists still feel excluded from Boston’s music ecosystem, frustrated by the lack of places to perform, hostile treatment, and, notoriously, venues that never book hip hop.
Then in January, the Boston Calling Music Festival announced the lineup for its May 24 to 26, 2019, events, headlined by Twenty One Pilots, Tame Impalia and Travis Scott. The 2018 edition had included Boston rappers STL GLD and Cousin Stizz. But for this weekend’s festival, the only emerging Boston talent in the lineup is Sidney Gish. A handful of other acts have Massachusetts ties—Guster, Clairo and Pile—but they’re already established as national touring acts. And none of these acts perform hip hop.
“Unfortunately this year it’s one of those things where we talked about it and it just didn’t work out in the programming, but it’s not like we don’t want to do it. In the future we’ll do it more,” Boston Calling’s longtime talent buyer Trevor Solomon told Boston Magazine. “I think there’s a great local hip hop scene here and we want to support it as much as possible, but every year it’s just different the way the booking works out. We only have so many acts we can book.”
So a few months back, when HipStory was planning a show, intern Muñeca Diaz, who also plays bass in Cliff Notez’s band, suggested “Boston Answering”—and a powerful idea was unleashed.
“I’m hearing a lot of support from the community,” Cliff Notez says. “They just get it as soon as they hear the name.”
With “Boston Answering” on May 25, the event webpage says, “HipStory aims to create a larger platform and fanbase to uplift some of the city’s finest local artists. Boston Answering is a showcase for some of Boston’s premiere local talent. It is an affordable alternative to the festival, for those interested in seeing Boston’s most talented artists showcased and amplified. It will take place the same weekend as Boston Calling, Saturday, May 25th. … This is our chance to show the city what incredible talent and power Boston born and bred artists can produce.”
“One of Boston’s biggest issues is its attachment to its national/international identity,” Cliff Notez wrote on Facebook yesterday, “through things like the development of the Seaport, its ridiculous gentrification caused by several things including, but not limited to, an influx of students, and a massive festival focused solely on bringing national acts to Boston. All of this is at the detriment it’s local identity, us.”
“Boston Calling is just one example of a lot of stress and pain that we’ve felt as a hip hop community,” Cliff Notez tells me. “It’s a microcosm of the larger conversation. … It hurts. We’re not accepted in the city and we’re not being accepted in this national spotlight. At the same time, we have something extremely special here.”
“It’s structural racism. Of course. That’s always it,” Cliff Notez says. “I’m not saying these people are directly racist. … It lets them be comfortable and nobody reprimands them for not including hip hop. It’s not like we’re trying to reprimand them. We’re like, hey, something is going on here you should probably check out.”
Cliff Notez notes that HipStory has been doing well. They’ve partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture to help energize the city’s Uphams Corner cultural district and program the city’s Strand Theatre there. They’ve received funding from The Boston Foundation. They booked and hosted one of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ “MFA Late Nites” and at the Hubweek innovation conference. Cliff Notez curated a three-concert “Sketchbook” series from January to March at Atwood’s Tavern, a Cambridge usually known for booking Americana acts.
“I understand that Boston Calling’s goal is to bring national acts to the city of Boston, but I think that’s really backwards, especially when you look at hip hop,” Notez says. “A major entity is coming into Boston, using the Boston name. Its goal is only to bring national acts into Boston, but not uplift the community it’s utilizing. … You probably should put us on these stages if you want to make some changes in the world. What makes us awesome is we’re going to continue to do it and not be downtrodden. We’re not going to give up. … I feel like we don’t have a choice.”
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