Festival Sundiata NW Hiphop Showcase
EMP Sky Church
Fri Feb 15, 8 pm, $10/$12.

The problem with a hiphop show at EMP is that it takes place too close to the exhibits, where one is reminded that hiphop's true vitality is a thing of the past: You can pay $20 and learn it for yourself. As a result, whether I see an exhibit or even hear a concert at EMP, I inevitably feel that I should turn to my company, sigh, and say: "Yes, and that's how it was all right."

To boot, this Friday's Northwest Hiphop Showcase, featuring Candidt, the Spinnovators, Cool Nutz, Byrdie, Syndel, and Central Intelligence, is EMP's way of teaming up with Festival Sundiata, the celebration of "African and African American art, history, and culture" that takes place every year at the Seattle Center.

The festival is another way of reminding ourselves how vital and important black culture is. But as cheesy as "heritage festivals" often get, you can't possibly criticize their existence: Their aims are righteous. Nonetheless, the idea of having a hiphop show in a museum, as part of a festival, just makes the idea of hiphop so unexciting.

Luckily, hiphop arms itself against such institutional enervation, and can even blow the roof off when it chooses. It's still the most socially provocative art form in America today; that is, when people discuss their problems with rap, they are forced to discuss larger issues of violence, economics, race, and gender relations, all the way down to the ethics of self-expression. The rappers on this bill will provide such a challenge, especially Cool Nutz, whose recently released album, Verbal Porn, lives up to its title.

This hiphop show will also triumph because it will treat musical history in more entertaining ways than any museum possibly could. The Spinnovators are an excellent local DJ crew who scratch, mix, and fade in syncopation to create stunning patchworks of sound. As the EMP itself is a "record" of popular music, the Spinnovators will be able to slap it on the turntable, put a needle on it, and manipulate it for a fresh new effect. Long live hiphop.

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