If you’re a Minneapolis hip-hop head who’s not planning to be standing in the Nomad parking lot on Saturday September 15th, waving your hands in the air…well, you’d better have a damn good excuse. Hip-Hop Harambee has music fans around the city talking about its impressive lineup, which matches national stardom–Talib Kweli, headlining with a live band–with some of the local scene’s very best talent.
The benevolent mastermind behind the day is Jake Heinitz. Jake’s already established himself as someone who makes things happen in Minneapolis hip-hop with ventures like No Static Records, which manages artists including Big Zach and Duenday, and the music blog Be Scene Mpls. Hip-Hop Harambee, which he created with rapper Manny Phesto, is his attempt to bring the city together in a celebration of community that could become an annual, hip-hop-centric tradition. Answering questions by e-mail, Jake explained what “Harambee” means, why you’d better be at the Nomad tomorrow, and why Shel Silverstein is an OG.
How did Hip-Hop Harambee come together? Where did the idea originally come from?
I had no choice in the matter. As the great actor Ice Cube once said, gangsta rap made me do it.
Last year I had worked hand-in-hand (yes, we held hands) with Taylor Madrigal of Audio Perm on organizing the Audio Perm Block Party. That whole process was a big learning experience that I have taken as an ongoing challenge with myself.
With this year’s event, I knew that I wanted to make it more than just another rap show–I wanted to make it an accessible community gathering, inspired by hip-hop culture. After a couple months of planning, I met with Manny Phesto–who is a hungry cat in the scene and someone who had previously approached me about building together–and asked if he would like to be involved with the process. Manny and I share similar ideals when it comes to the importance of community and the meaning of success/progress, so I felt that it would be a perfect project for us to start with.
Earlier this year, I had spent a month in Kenya, with a local family. We ate goat, climbed mountains, killed chickens and made fun of my sunburn. Most importantly, they taught me to truly cherish life. Through a month of interaction/lovin’, I became obsessed with their communal values and the manner in which they supported each other. So when I came back to Minnesota, I was looking for a way to express these lessons that I had been blessed to learn.
As the event details began to formulate, Manny and I continued to struggle with the name. Some of the names on our brainstorm list: Bass Knock, Ya’Meen, Nah’Meen and a whole bunch of other names that would have made us look like some brainless, exclamation point-using “promoters” (i.e., “CUM 2 MY SHOW MUTHA FUCKAZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Flush out of ideas, I called my Kenyan mother and asked her for some Swahili terms surrounding the theme of “community.” She threw out a few (harambee, sherekea, etc.) and then told me to quit worrying and come eat some sambusas.
A couple days later, I was driving Manny and his girlfriend, Alissa Paris (who will be dancing at the event), to the movie theater. Manny and I were in the front seat stressin’, just throwing out words (in a mild desperation) while Alissa bounced around carelessly in the backseat. With a sing-song cadence, Alissa chirped, “Hip-Hop, Hip-Hop Harambeeeee.” SCREEEEECH, I hit the brakes and we both kinda looked back at her like, whatchu say? And thus, it was officially born: Hip-Hop Harambee.*
*Harambee – a rallying cry used in Kenya. A cry of Harambee (Swahili: pull together).
How was the lineup assembled?
We borrowed that machine from the Powerball people, filled it with rapper Twitters and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t draw @MacMiller.
We just picked the people who we thought were dope and coincidentally, ended up being mostly our friends. When choosing a lineup for a festival, it is easy to be swayed by political nonsense and numbers. We refused to do that. So we just picked up our phones and started calling favors from all the homies. To each of them, we explained our overall vision and that we saw them as a key piece to the puzzle.
We were also very conscious about making this more than just a day of straight rap music–since that can be exhausting–by including dynamic groups such as Lizzo & the Larva Ink, Up Rock, Bomba Umoya and Mankwe. We have all been to rap shows in which four fitted cap-wearing opening acts get up and spit the same ol’ shit and by the time the headliner comes on, you are already rapped up and rapped out. That is another reason we booked Talib Kweli with his full band, so we could make the whole day, start to finish, a truly diverse musical experience.
Do you hope to make the Harambee an annual event?
That’s not really up to us, it’s up to the people that come through–attendance numbers inspire the encore. But our goal is to continue this annually and hopefully expand into the street. I think that every city needs an all hip-hop block party, so we want to be the ones to provide that experience. Sidewalk chalk, BBQs, breakdancing, multiple stages, half-pipe, open graffiti wall, freestyle cyphers, poetry, etc. We want to create a community space for all types of soulful expression.
Why should people come?
Because if you come, Big Zach will give you happy drugs and Lizzo will give you happy hugs.
How did you become involved in Twin Cities hip-hop?
When I was a senior in high school, a close friend of mine was killed in a motorcycle accident (R.I.P. Nick Fix). The accident sent out a heavy ripple through his family and friends, since Nick led a life that positively affected so many different people. I decided that what everyone could use was a space to celebrate his life and enjoy themselves, simultaneously. So I threw an outdoor benefit show at the Normandale Lake Bandshell, and ended up getting Kanser and Prof to come perform for free (two of Nick’s favorite artists).
From that point on, I began working closely with Big Zach [of Kanser], soaking up as much knowledge as possible. That ol’ dude’s wisdom and patience have been crucial to my development, and like many, I will never be able to fully repay him. Then again, Zach doesn’t want to be paid, he just wants to be fed, so I repay him in veggie burgers and Synergy Kombucha.
How did Be Scene Mpls come about? What were and are your goals for the site?
The more you get involved in this community, the more talent you discover. As these talented people start to become your friends, you find yourself wanting to help everyone. Unfortunately, if you try and help too many people, you end up actually hurting them and hindering their progress, because you aren’t giving them the attention they deserve from a manager. With this knowledge, I realized that I wanted to create an online space where I could support on more of a macro level, shouting out the music that I support and love to listen to. Insert Be Scene Mpls here. As time has gone on, I have found it to be an excellent vehicle for a variety of things, including sponsoring shows like Hip-Hop Harambee, hosting cypher sessions, supporting upcoming brands and just overall collaboration.
What do you say when people ask, “So, what do you do?”
I tell them I’m a full-time jazz enthusiast and then smack them over the head with a stack of hundred dollar bills. See me.
How do you define your role within the hip-hop community?
A catalyst for progress.
What do you like about Minneapolis? What do you dislike, or think should change?
Things I love in Minneapolis: Jazz 88, down-to-earth superstars like Stef (P.O.S.), Urban Bean cold press, Hidden Beach, rooftops, underground dance parties and our art scene, overall.
Things I dislike in Minneapolis: Nice Ride bikes, hipster-on-hipster violence, the Mall of America, condescending attitudes.
What’s your favorite thing about the Twin Cities hip-hop scene? What needs to improve?
Favorite part of the scene: Big Zach’s book. To understand your role, you have to first understand how those roles were established. If Zach didn’t take the time to document that, similar to the work of an Alan Lomax, it would be lost history. We owe a lot to that hula-hoopin’ hippie.
Improvements: More trap music, it’s the new underground. We also need more beef. Our rap scene is too passive-aggressive.
Who are some up-and-coming artists we should be paying attention to?
Sarah White, former member of Black Blondie and Traditional Methods. She has been making music in New York for the past few years and is now back in Minneapolis. I have a strong feeling that she is gonna change the game.
I’m also excited to hear Bomba de Luz’s next record. I know that Stef (P.O.S.) reached out to the 17-year-old lead singer, and said he wanted to work with her. If that ends up happening, we will all be in for a treat.
Big Dylan of Audio Perm is someone that I work very closely with and I’m a big believer in his potential. Right now, he is working on his debut record, and even without the incredible features that he has lined up, it is destined to be a TC classic. His studio mate, Alibaster Jones, is also coming with a new style and I’m excited to see how that develops.
What do you do for fun (besides go to rap shows)?
I am constantly traveling. Meeting new people and discovering new cultures is what keeps my soul fed.
I also enjoy walking barefoot in “shoes required” zones, talking about aliens with Lizzo and Truth Be Told, lighting things on fire and dancing where/when no one else is.
What would be your dream project to work on?
My dream is to be a travel writer, focusing on music scenes in different villages, urban areas and rural countrysides, all over the world. I would then like to eventually turn it into a travel show (think “No Reservations” with a music focus).
Another dream of mine is to write a children’s book. I believe the best fables are those that possess simplified wisdom. That’s why Shel Silverstein is such an OG.
Anything else we should know about the Hip Hop Harambee or anything else?
I could talk more about Hip Hop Harambee but you know that it’s gonna be tight so I won’t waste my breath. I’d like to take this last opportunity to borrow the words of P.O.S. and say, “Fuck your stuff.” Life is not about accumulation. If you try and find happiness in material things, you will never stop searching. You will find love where you give love so never stop giving.