Sometime last year I was a judge at a rap contest, and the entire event was a shit-show: the MC didn’t know how to cut the music without sharp feedback on the mic, the audience was unbelievably rude, and the rappers were disrespectful. In the contest I judged last year, I walk in to sit down at the judge’s table and there is a woman sitting in my chair. I believe either myself or someone told her she can’t sit there because she isn’t and a judge, and then she looks at me. She asks if I’m a judge, and when I say ‘yes’, she proceeds to pull on my shirt, pull on my arm to tell me I had better “judge right”. This, I would immediately figure out, would mean vote for her son.
The MC’s called me and the other woman who was judging ‘females’. The other woman who was judging got called a bitch by one of the rappers who was eliminated. A fight with that rapper’s girlfriend and her almost ensued, and all the people who came with said rapper were thrown out. My fellow woman judge almost left, and I could not blame her.
But she stayed and when the contest was finished, I marched up to the MC’s told him how wretched he was. I’m a woman, not a female. He was too busy getting dap from his homies to hear me, of course. I say that to address the conundrum of rappers and how that conundrum often disillusions me from my love for hip-hop. (“Male”) rappers want to be afforded the space to be vulnerable and open about their emotions, but in that same space want to be allowed to dehumanize and belittle women—reducing them to their reproductive organs. It truly baffles the mind how we accept and allow this kind of behavior and yet are confused by how much violence women endure for being women. In an interview Kim K. recently did, to loosely quote her: “Yeah, Kanye calls me a bitch, but that’s just how they talk”. For better or worse, she’s a role model and when we hear things like that it’s the biggest co-sign.
To be quite honest, I did not want to be a judge and yet I went along with it for two reasons: 1. Our founder with Upcoming Hip Hop asked me to (and he doesn’t ask me for much) and 2. I wanted there to be a sense of equilibrium. I wanted for the judging panel to have at least a single woman’s voice if there was no other. Fortunately there was another woman there…who ended up leaving half way through the show because none of the judges were told what to do or who was performing.
The show was supposed to start promptly at 10. Oh you thought. You thought! It didn’t start closer to 11:30. Of course it was not on time because the curator does not take themselves seriously.
In order for me to explain how this next part was ridiculous I have to explain a bit about the setting, so bear with me. The contest was in a sliver of a bar, somewhere in Brooklyn. In the front of the bar there was a T.V. and a large plank of raised wood right in front of it which I assumed would be the stage. Next to that was a section of chairs and tables marked ‘reserved’ and this is where the judges were told to sit. We were told that the rappers would be in front and we would rate them…how..? We were never told. We were also not told that there was a change of plans and the rappers would be performing in the back. I found the curator and asked what was going on, to which they said "It's what they wanted".
After that, the remainder of the night ranged from cringe-worthy racist comments towards the only Japanese rapper from the hosts, in which they said something to the effect of: “My eyes are low like yours”. The hosts were advocating for men to make babies because it was a Father's Day show. Which, whether he meant to or not, advocates for paternal negligence as well as sexual assault. There was nothing in what he said that made me think the woman in question has any say in this pregnancy. One of the rappers said "in rap, you need sexy females". And of course, I got up and walked away because that’s a confession if I ever heard one.
But here is the winning comment: the host actually said "if you're not supporting these artists, you should kill yourself".
The entire show was a parody of hip-hop. Seeing it this way actually makes me feel better, because I’m convinced these “rappers” hardly were such. It was a saddest display of hypermasculinity and extortion. The curator just wanted to exploit artists and make a quick buck while wasting my time.
Moments like this have forced me to stand up for myself, because no one else would. Moments like this in which I have to argue for the space I occupy…if not for that, I don’t think my backbone would be strong as it is now. Moments like these show me hip-hop has to do better, and I’m not talking about respectability politics, but if we cherish or claim to cherish this genre so much, then those who claim to operate under its name needs to be held to a higher standard. There’s more to hip-hop than talking about stacks and booty bitches. I love a good turn-up song though, don’t get it twisted.
This horrifying ordeal showed me is how grateful I am for Art Genesis and The Rap Ritual, spaces carved out for MC’s who take themselves seriously and wish to build meaningful professional relationships with figures moving in the underground hip-hop scene.
So a few quick tips about what not to do at a hip-hop show / contest if you’re curating:
- Start on time by giving people incentive to come early / on time: discount at the door, maybe a few free shots.
- If you’re gonna have a guest list, make sure whoever is by the door is aware of the guest list.
- If you’re having a contest, make sure the judges know you they are judging: give them a criteria, set rules. Follow through on these set rules.
- Announce the judges to the rappers and everyone.
- If you cannot pay the judges, give them free drinks: it is rude to ask for someone’s time and give them nothing in return.
- Make sure to tell the crowd to tip the bar.
- Don’t switch around the artists and not tell the judges.
It goes without saying: for real this time, I will never judge a contest again. I would say “do better” but I don’t have to say that to the MC’s who know hip-hop is life.