City Beat

Hip-hop isn’t to blame for downtown shooting

Andru Defeye performs at “Most Open Mic in the City” at Hot Italian Restaurant last year. The open mic show will return with a performance at Cesar Chavez Plaza on Monday night.
Andru Defeye performs at “Most Open Mic in the City” at Hot Italian Restaurant last year. The open mic show will return with a performance at Cesar Chavez Plaza on Monday night. Ryan Lillis/rlillis@sacbee.com

You want to see what hip-hop in this city can look like? Then be in Cesar Chavez Plaza at 8:08 Monday night.

That’s when a talented crew of young artists will re-ignite their “Most Open Mic in the City” experiment. It’s like a flash mob, where poets, rappers and songwriters take turns showcasing their art.

The Open Mic group hit a bunch of midtown bars and restaurants last year. They’re teachers and state workers and accountants. Their performances are often deeply personal, and no one brags about dealing drugs or guns. Anyone who uses a homophobic slur gets booed.

“Hip-hop is a universal culture and language,” said Andru Defeye, who runs ZFG Promotions and organizes the events. “We should be leaders.”

Defeye and his friends spend a lot of time in local schools, using hip-hop and the spoken word to connect with kids, empowering them to express themselves.

“Hip-hop is supposed to represent the struggle you come from,” Defeye said. “It’s not supposed to be about the violence.”

Nipsey Hussle would not belong in this group.

He’s an L.A. rapper who acknowledges in interviews that he’s a member of the Rollin’ 60s street gang. On Feb. 20, four people were shot outside his show at Ace of Spades on R Street.

The reaction from some was quick: ban hip-hop from Ace of Spades, one of the city’s top live music venues. The club’s owners said they were pressured into canceling rap acts and they did, calling off a show this past weekend.

Bret Bair is the club’s co-owner. The club is in its fifth year, and he has promoted more than 700 shows, including more than 150 hip-hop acts. Like any other club or bar, Ace of Spades has had some fights. But Bair said they also hire cops for extra security. This was the first shooting.

Now Bair is worried about the club’s future. Their entertainment permit is up for renewal soon, and he expects a lot of scrutiny. Neighbors are worried about the crowds outside the venue, and Bair said he’ll be careful about what acts he books.

“If there’s another incident, this business is going to be gone,” he said.

The reaction to the shooting raises a question: Why is hip-hop treated differently than other entertainment? Two men were beaten in a bathroom at Levi’s Stadium last fall before a 49ers game, and there was a shooting outside a 49ers-Raiders game in 2011. Should the NFL get shut down? Of course not.

But because of one incident, a premier entertainment venue in this city might suffer. Some smaller clubs do very well, but there aren’t other spots in Sacramento like Ace of Spades. It seats 1,000 and attracts national acts.

Defeye struggles with who to blame for the backlash. Is it Nipsey Hussle? No – the blame isn’t on hip-hop.

“It’s the guy who pulled the gun,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/city-beat.

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