two bars three stars: the DC hip-hop history project

4 Jan

In my short time as a DC resident, I’ve become increasingly perplexed at the obvious lack of successful, influential rappers from the District. This is the Chocolate City, after all; why would a city so rich in Black culture fail to contribute to the vast canon of Golden Age hip-hop that defined New York and L.A. in the early 90s? Why didn’t a niche scene emerge akin to those in Detroit and Houston? Why did it take so long for a rapper as famous as Wale to rhyme about DC? My friends, these are the questions that keep me awake at night—and my half-baked hypotheses and research are best left to a different post for a different day.

These same questions are now being discussed through the recently launched DC Hip-Hop History Project. The project, sponsored by FWMJ’s Rappers I Know—a.k.a. the website credited for breaking new artists like Jay Electronica and Little Brother—involves radio host Jamie Benson interviewing notable local musicians to tell the story of the DC hip hop scene.

The project’s first podcast debuted today, in which DC artists yU and Kokayi join Benson to interview The Unspoken Heard, a prominent DC hip hop duo comprised of rappers Asheru and Blue Black. The group discusses how life in the DMV fostered their development as hip-hop artists, including an entertaining anecdote about Asheru’s experience writing the Boondocks theme song (~minute 42).

 The guys also recount the roadblocks for DC rappers to fully capitalize on the Golden Age; Kokayi states, “I can go back to a time when being an MC in DC was not a popular thing. If you rapped, the connotation was that you were trying to act like you were from New York.” (Here I was thinking the DC-NY inferiority complex started with the influx of hipsters in 2008…nah, apparently this conundrum has deep roots).

The interview is quintessentially DC in so many ways: not only do Asheru and Blue Black talk about finding their sound in the underground scene around U Street and their work with local music coalitions like Guerilla Arts, they also discuss their University of Virginia educations (wahoowa stand up) and their impressive professional endeavors (~minute 35). Yes, in this city, even our rappers have master’s degrees in IT. Welcome to DC.

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