There are not many clubs in Madison featuring hip hop these days — but there are still countless fans. So hip hop lovers are taking their music elsewhere: To the streets.
This summer the Urban Community Arts Network, or UCAN, has drawn huge crowds to the Top of State, a series of free daytime shows sponsored by Madison’s Downtown business community on State Street. More than 300 people attended a demonstration and talk on the history of hip hop in early July.
With its “For the Love of Hip Hop” concert series, UCAN also has set up stages and turntables in parks throughout the city. Its next outdoor, all-ages show, featuring rappers, dancers, singers and free food is scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Penn Park.
“We’re trying to make sure local music is going on in our city,” said Mark “ShaH” Evans, who helped form UCAN more than five years ago. “But more importantly we’re trying to make sure hip hop music is going on in our city — because you have a whole genre of music that’s been shut out.”
Madison’s hip hop scene was dealt a serious blow in the early 2000s, when violence broke out at some club shows. That resulted in a “de facto ban” of live performances — because club owners became fearful that presenting hip hop would jeopardize their liquor licenses, said Pacal “DJ Pain 1” Bayley.
In reaction to the media frenzy that followed the violence, Evans, Bayley and the hip hop fan and scientist Karen Reece, along with others, created the Madison Hip Hop Awards to honor the best creative work being done by hip hop artists and producers in the city. Now in its sixth year, the Madison Hip Hop Awards will host its 2015 show and awards ceremony on Nov. 7 at the Barrymore Theatre.
UCAN was an outgrowth of that first hip hop awards show — a big success that drew some 300 people “dressed to impress,” said Evans, the owner of ME Management and Consulting, who has been booking hip hop acts locally and nationally for years.
The turnout showed Madison was hungry for hip hop, he said.
Since then, UCAN has worked to organize shows, school workshops and community events for adults and youth. It partners each fall with Madison Media Institute to produce the “Level Up” music conference for artists and producers, offering classroom-style workshops with industry professionals.
UCAN’s mission includes creating “sustainable and safe” performance opportunities for all local hip hop artists.
This is UCAN’s second summer performing at 30 on State, the outdoor stage on State Street near Capitol Square.
“We get five to seven artists out to perform, and make sure the music is clean — because we realize anyone could be walking by at any time, including families with kids,” Evans said. “You’ll have people who — who knows if they’ve ever listened to hip hop before — stop and dance. We’ve had people across the street dancing. It’s a great vibe.”
The group also strives to support musicians, said Bayley, better known as “DJ Pain 1,” a platinum-certified professional hip hop producer who has produced records for artists such as Ludacris, Public Enemy, The Game and Jadakiss.
“What we really want to emphasize is that we compensate our artists for their performances. Not much, but we’ve received a Dane Arts grant and a Madison Arts Commission grant for the second year in a row,” he said. “With that money we’re not only able to secure the space for these events, but to compensate artists, which is something that we firmly believe in — because one of our missions is to create a sustainable local music scene.”
“We can’t do that if we’re not setting a good example,” said DJ Pain 1, who recently completed the national Teaching Artist Training program sponsored by the Overture Center and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“We want to set a precedent for hip hop artists, so they know they should be compensated,” he said. “All artists should be compensated, but that doesn’t always happen.”
Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, which produces Top of State in partnership with the city, invited UCAN to stage several shows this summer because of the group’s “great track record of fun, positive events with an educational component — plus broad appeal,” said BID executive director Mary Carbine.
“They are socially conscious, creative, community-oriented — plus bring great talent and industry know-how,” she said.
“We want the scene overall to be healthy,” said DJ Pain 1. “So that people who want to listen to music can listen to music, and artists who work hard creating the music can reach those people who want their music — and do it in a professional manner such that the events are successful and they receive compensation.”