By Charlie Leonard
August 31, 2020 (updated)
Created by local artists, a new music festival titled “We Are Hip Hop” is coming to the Booth Playhouse. The festival will run from Jan. 21 – 24, 2021, and will feature virtual and in-person performances from hip hop artists and dancers, DJs, spoken word poets, graffiti artists, and more. “We Are Hip Hop” will kick off an ongoing series of activities throughout the year under the same moniker.
A key member of the festival’s development is Emmy award-winning poet and author, Boris “Bluz” Rogers. Rogers has written and performed his poetry in conjunction with several notable Charlotte organizations, and he’s currently writing two books: one about hip hop haikus and another full of poems about musicians. Plus, he has a new single out called “Stronger,” available to stream on all platforms. When it comes to the arts and creative expression, Rogers knows a lot.
To Rogers, “We Are Hip Hop” is much more than musical entertainment; it’s a celebration of hip hop culture, something that’s personal for many.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter where you come from. At some point in time, hip hop has moved you, and we want you to be a part of that movement,” Rogers said. “When we say ‘we are hip hop,’ we’re talking about you, too.”
This year’s event builds off the momentum of the “Breakin’ Convention,” an international hip hop festival that came to Charlotte from 2015 to 2017. The show featured live DJs, dancing, spoken word performances, and graffiti exhibitions among other events. It was a celebratory atmosphere, fusing foreign and local acts to celebrate hip hop culture abroad and at home in Charlotte. Now, three years later, people still mention the festival to Rogers.
“I’ll be in Walmart and have someone say, ‘Hey, I remember you from Breakin’ Convention. When is the next one,’” he said.
The event’s contract expired in 2018 but, with local enthusiasm for hip hop culture remaining high, Rogers knew that he had to keep the energy alive. Charlotte’s hip hop scene has grown exponentially in that short time with local artists like DaBaby and Lute gaining national recognition. Rogers also points to artists like Elevator Jay, Big Pooh, and The Mighty DJ DR, among others, as pivotal players in that development. What results is a city that he sees as a new and unique hub for serious talent, and that’s something to celebrate.
Rogers approached Tom Gabbard, President of Blumenthal Performing Arts– the presenter of Breakin Convention– to discuss the creation of a Charlotte-centric hip hop festival. Gabbard agreed with Rogers’ sentiment on the importance to Charlotte, and offered to spearhead the creation of this year’s event.
“We want to build on the success we had with Breakin’ Convention to create a new program that is truly our own in celebrating hip hop and Charlotte artists,” Gabbard said.
Beyond Rogers’ consultation, three additional collaborators have been recruited to present “We Are Hip Hop”: visual artist Bree Stallings, dancer and CrayzeeBeat Dance founder AJ Glasco, and Heal Charlotte Executive Director Greg Jackson. Together, they’ve formulated an event very similar to the Breakin’ Convention but with some pandemic-specific differences.
The main show will run from Thursday through Saturday featuring acts focused around the dance community. Supplementing it will be music, art, poetry performances, workshops via Zoom, and DJ battles during the intermission. A major theme that will be explored is the evolution of Charlotte’s hip hop culture from the early ‘90s until now, with some expected references to the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
One element that Rogers sees as being the first of its kind in Charlotte is the “After Church Party,” a mostly faith-based party happening after church services end on that Sunday. Different hip hop artists and DJs, primarily in the Gospel and Christian genre, are set to perform that day with an end goal of highlighting the growth of spiritual influences in Charlotte’s culture. Even then, Rogers says that it’s not designed to just talk about God.
“Some of it’s just really fun, happy. Some of it’s real uplifting. Some of it’s ‘Hey, I’ve been through this depression. I’ve been through this struggle before and here’s how I came through,’” he said. “But their main focus is on, like, uplifting and just bringing people and the culture up to a higher place.”
The weekend’s events will be streamed and available to watch online. The festival’s plan includes in-person seating, with around 25 to 50 people allowed inside the Booth Playhouse. It’s a decision which will largely hinge on the direction of North Carolina’s COVID-19 case count and any anticipated change in the guidelines, an update of which is expected September 11.
Tickets for “We Are Hip Hop” on January 21 – 24, 2021 will be available at BlumenthalArts.org.