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Beats, rhymes and Black lives: Hip hop’s revival in Stampede city

Last Updated May 19, 2021 at 3:54 pm MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — A year of beats, rhymes and Black lives.

Twin pandemics pulled hip hop and R&B artists off stage, but Black voices have been amplified through trauma from the death of George Floyd.

And, there’s a hunger to rebuild culture in Calgary, a city where country music and the Calgary Stampede have traditionally enjoyed all the privileges.

One man has been quietly building a multi-use space for artists over the last year, and it’s about to launch in just weeks.

The local hip-hip pioneer has been showcasing talent for almost a decade through 10 at 10 events, paving a way for the genre in what everyone knew as Cowtown.

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“A lot of those events were heavily policed. Or they weren’t allowed to happen just because it said hip hop, so again if I’m going to do an outdoor event or an indoor public event, my insurance would double or triple if I put that hip hop was going to be played,” said Beni Johnson, CEO of 10 at 10 Music & Culture. “So
you know, in understanding that, to say okay, how do we navigate this new future. Let’s see what the Stampede is allowed to do.”

The Calgary Stampede will act as a barometer for other festivals and live shows, but cowboys and country also bask in the freedoms others don’t – the show has enjoyed expanded liquor service and other privileges.

Shutdowns forced many artists to perform at-home live streams, but another man also brought his voice to the streets with another crisis, as a leader with Black Lives Matter YYC.

“At this point in time, we were really active as activists. So that’s what kinda seeped its way into the music,” said Kay L. “And just regular things, people watching TV, sitting at home, doing the dishes, because that’s what life is right now.”

But there are worries, there may not be stages to go back to, places like this are in trouble – and could use the kind of government programs other businesses are receiving.

READ MORE: ‘There will be something that feels like Stampede’: Nenshi hopeful more will come with this year’s Stampede

“Right now a new classification has been given to music venues, they’re now called culture rooms, which will give them access to more granting. But it’s still not going to be enough for a lot of these venues,” said Johnson. “So I’m hoping in three to four months, we still have some of the venues that have helped this
music scene be what it is today.”

Johnson and others note, the spotlight on Black people is also creating opportunities, in never before seen grants and programs specific to R&B and hip hop.

“It’s going to make the city a lot more inclusive, and it’s going to be more multicultural and a lot more accepting due to the protests of 2020, so I’m thankful for that,” said Kay. “And, I feel there’s a big change coming, and we won’t have problems finding work when we get back to work.”