Recap: 13th International Hip Hop Festival

Hartford, Connecticut, April 18, 2018—Year after year, the Trinity International Hip-Hop Festival celebrates the power of hip-hop as an educational tool and source of cultural identity for artists, educators, scholars, and organizers from around the world. To this day, it remains the biggest and longest-running festival of its kind hosted by a U.S. college/university. Mainly organized by the Trinity Chapter of Temple of Hip Hop, the 13th festival took place the weekend of April 6 through 8.

Every year, Temple of Hip Hop student organizers choose a theme for the festival, which is usually an outgrowth of what’s been happening on campus. As a result, this year’s theme was “Free Speech, Censorship, and Protest.” Three panels and one lecture examined this theme in depth. On Friday, April 6, Jesse Benjamin of Kennesaw State University kicked off the festival with a riveting lecture titled, “Taking Hip Hop Human Rights to the Root, From Columbus to Cointelpro: Resisting the Invention of Humans Without Rights.” Later that day, more than 90 people packed Rittenberg Lounge for a panel discussion moderated by Msia Clark (Howard University) featuring Emile YX? (South Africa), Dana Burton (China), and MC Pous (China). On Saturday, April 7, hip-hop pioneers DJ Stretch Armstrong and Pete Nice, along with hip-hop journalist/author Brian Coleman, addressed free speech by talking about the early years of hip-hop fliers. This discussion preceded a politically charged panel that looked at the connection between hip-hop, free speech, and censorship in Cuba featuring hip-hop artists Escuadron Patriota and David Omni.

Friday night’s hip-hop dance competition and exhibition once again proved that this element of hip-hop culture is thriving locally, nationally, and internationally. More than 300 people found themselves in the Washington Room to watch hip-hop dancers of all styles compete to the music coming from the turntables of DJ L.I.D. (San Diego) and DJ Stealth (Hartford). The All Styles competition saw the Squirrel Squad (Connecticut) battle and defeat Fire Squad (Connecticut) to claim the $800 prize money. A special exhibition by b-boys Phil Wizard (Canada) and Lokito (USA) took place before NYC, featuring Pop, Gravity, and A-Rod, claimed victory over the Dynamic Rockers, another b-boy crew from New York City, to win the $600 prize money.

Saturday was a jam-packed day of events held both indoors and outdoors. At Gates Quad, the live graffiti exhibition featured Brazilian graffiti writer Marcelo Ment, Lindaluz Carrillo (Hartford), Wiley (Hartford), and five other Connecticut writers. While the graffiti writers were showcasing their spray-painting talents, more than 70 young people of all ages were participating in the festival’s annual Youth 4 Change conference. The conference consisted of a series of workshops on the history of African diaspora music, song writing and the music industry, and dance facilitated by Project South (Atlanta), Keysha Freshh (Canada), Angyil McNeal (Kansas City), and Studio860 (Hartford) and performances by DJ Henny Red (New Haven), YouMedia (Hartford), and Youthful Expressions (Hartford). ‘The Cave Patio Showcase” came after the Youth 4 Change conference as rappers joined co-hosts Self Suffice and Versatile Poetiq, along with DJ Stealth on the 1s and 2s, for performances by DJ Trouble Kidd (Jervon Adams Jr. ’20, Trinity College) and Klein Fortuin (South Africa), among many others. Between performances, the SELF CTRL Band (Josh Michtom on bass, Sam King on drums, Malibongwe Thwala ’17 on guitar, and Tang $auce on cornet) kept the positive vibes going strong.

On Saturday night, more than 400 people attended the main concert hosted by Minister Server. Klein Fortuin (South Africa), Political Animals (Connecticut), Demi Day (North Carolina), Keysha Freshh (Canada), Hache ST (Dominican Republic), Old City (Cape Verde), Five Steez (Jamaica), David Omni (Cuba), and Escuadron Patriota (Cuba) hyped up the crowd before Chicago’s Taylor Bennett took the stage to deliver a highly energized performance. Sadly, this year’s main headliner, Noname, could not perform due to an illness. However, hip-hop is about making something out of nothing, so to close out the night the majority of the international rappers joined Minister Server, Self Suffice and DJ Boo on stage for a 30-minute freestyle session.

On Sunday, April 8, the last day of the festival, activities moved from Mather Hall to Vernon Social Center and Heaven Skatepark. At Heaven Skatepark, a park located in downtown Hartford that permits legal graffiti, Marcelo Ment (Brazil), Lindaluz Carrillo (Hartford), and Emile YX? (South Africa) created colorful pieces. Back on the Trinity campus, a large crowd attended the “DJ and Producer Cypher” session, getting the opportunity to listen to and talk about hip-hop beats produced featuring Marc Angelo, Willz, G Whiz (founder of Musicology), and G Dot. Panelists also answered questions about collaborating with MCs, approaches to new technology, cultural appropriation, integrity in an evolving industry, and differences between hip-hop production from different regions. Additional DJs/producers included: Ralphie-O, Cruze, Steede Chinan, Nuk Beatz, to name but a few. An improvisational collaboration between producers and MCs was a great finale to the event.

“The Iron Poet Challenge and Annual Championship” marked the last event of the festival. Co-hosted by Versatile Poetiq (Hartford) and Mya Peters ’18 (Trinity College), eight spoken word poets competed in front of selected judges over three rounds. Deem Malik (Hartford) came out on top, beating out Mazin Khalil ’15 (Trinity College) and Naieem Levi Kelly (Hartford).

“So much to take away from this weekend,” commented DJ Stealth of Hartford.  “I re-connected and became closer with old friends and formed relationships with new ones. I said it before: the festival is like Mecca to us Hip-Hop Heads. It’s the only international hip-hop event in America and right in my home town.”

A special thanks to our co-organizers Greg Schick of Nomadic Wax, Khaiim “Self Suffice” Kelly ’03, Taris “Machinegun Poptart” Clemmons, Brittana “Versatile Poetic” Tatum, Olusanya Bey, Mickey Correa ’20, and Jasmin Agosto ’10 for doing such a wonderful job. Also, the Trinity Chapter of Temple of Hip Hop would like to thank Karla Spurlock-Evans and Carol Correa de Best IDP ’01 of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the President’s Office, Center for Urban and Global Studies Arts Committee, Human Rights Program, History Department, International Studies Program, Romulus Perez of Student Activities, Christina Kelley of the Calendar and Special Events Office, Hartford Lumber Company, WRTC 89.3, and the Buildings and Grounds staff for all of their support. 

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