Panel aiming for solutions to bolster Pittsburgh hip-hop scene


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That sound you’re not hearing is Pittsburgh’s hip-hop community struggling to find venues for its voices.

But if you listen closely tonight you will detect a dynamic conversation aimed at helping local artists make themselves heard.

It’s a hip-hop discussion panel featuring nationally known producer and educator 9th Wonder at The Alloy Studios in Friendship. The event is presented by RARE Nation and Pittsburgh artist Jasiri X and his company 1Hood Media.

“We’re trying to bring the [hip-hop] culture back,” said Palermo Stone, one of the organizers of RARE Nation. “There’s a lot of things that are falling off, like the August Wilson Center is closing. The arts community is not thriving as it should in this city.

“Hip-hop is what I do. And this is an initiative to revitalize that side of the music. To show people that it’s not always mind-numbing, that there are some positive things there. So this is our first attempt at bringing that culture back and making it alive again.”

RARE Nation is a local music company — its name stands for “Revitalizing Art/​Reinventing Emotion” — formed by Mr. Stone, Rami Bensasi and Jon Mehalic. They are fighting for their genre.

“We’re doing it in Bloomfield, East Liberty and the area closest to Negley and Penn,” said Mr. Stone, 24, who grew up in McKeesport and attended Woodland Hills schools with Mr. Bensasi. “[Those neighborhoods] have a lot of art culture, but there’s not a lot of color, not a lot for African-Americans to go to. Or they don’t want to go that far for it. So we’re trying to bring it a little bit closer, to bridge that gap between all cultures and all things. We’re trying to get that melting pot effect.

“Tonight we’re bringing in 9th Wonder, who is a legendary producer. He’s done stuff for Jay Z and Drake. A lot of major artists.”

Mr. Wonder is from North Carolina, where he teaches at Duke University. He has a fellowship at Harvard, he owns his own record label called Jamla Records and he tours the country.

“He’s just making a stop in Pittsburgh for us,” Mr. Stone said of tonight’s event. “He’s going to come and have a one-on-one conversation with Jasiri X about hip-hop, the history, things he uses to produce, his ups and downs. Also about protecting your own intellectual property. I expect it to be a very educational experience about music and the music industry as a whole.

“It’s going to be a little different for the hip-hop community. I’ve been doing stuff for years and we’ve never really had something like this. We’re all part of the rat race, but we don’t really learn much. This is going to put some information into people’s heads from someone who has done it already and been successful at it.

“I’m going to open up with a performance, then we get right into the conversation with 9th Wonder. There will be a Q-and-A, and for those who can’t attend, we’ll be taking live tweets from #ask9th.”

Jasiri X grew up as Jasiri Oronde Smith in a gang-ridden neighborhood of Chicago before he and his mother moved to Monroeville in the 1980s. He was profiled in a recent article by Post-Gazette music writer Scott Mervis, who said Mr. X graduated from Gateway High School at 16. He started college with the intention of being a lawyer, first at the University of Maryland, and then at the University of Pittsburgh, but dropped out.

He started doing spoken word performances, and then, inspired by Louis Farrakhan, he joined the Nation of Islam and became a social activist working out of a mosque in Wilkinsburg. Since 2007, his focus has been on spreading the word through hip-hop, and he’s traveled the country doing shows, lectures and seminars, mostly at colleges.

Mr. Stone is an MC all around town.

“I’ve performed everywhere in Pittsburgh,” he said. “If there’s a venue that has live music, I’ve pretty much been there.”

But tonight’s event isn’t the fulfillment of a dream. It’s the start of one.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but we’ve never had the manpower or money to do it,” Mr. Stone said. “Recently, the Heinz Endowment has blessed us with some money and with more corporate support we’re able to do some things with youth.

“It’s a building process and this is our first event. We plan to have one every month for the rest of the year and a music and arts festival in August to kind of bring everything full circle. To showcase everything we’re trying to do.”

The Conversation with 9th Wonder begins at 7 p.m. at The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Ave., in Friendship. It is presented by 1Hood Media, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and the Pittsburgh Hip Hop Arts Collaborative.

Admission is $5.

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com.


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