CULTURE explores the past and future of Twin Cities hip-hop

Arts / Article

All photos via David Glasgow except the open wall, which is via Rogue Citizen.

For all of the strides hip-hop has made as an art form over the past several decades, there are still plenty of otherwise in-the-know arts patrons who think of it solely as a musical genre. In actuality, hip-hop encompasses everything from rap to dance to graphic art to creative writing, with tendrils in nearly any artistic discipline you can name. As legendary rapper and educator KRS-ONE puts it, “Rap is something you do. Hip-hop is something you live.” That ethos is clearly on display in CULTURE, a Knight-funded art and music series produced by Rogue Citizen arts collective and Free Range Music Cooperative.

Free Range’s Marcus Kar describes CULTURE as a “coalition of the willing,” with artists, musicians, dancers, activists, poets and educators joining forces to spread awareness of the Twin Cities’ hip-hop community and foster young artists trying to find a foothold. Coupling Free Range’s focus on music and performance with Rogue Citizen’s grounding in graffiti and visual art, the collaboration offers something for just about any aspiring hip-hop artist.

The series launched in early November with an all-ages open house at Amsterdam Bar and Hall featuring performances by local luminaries Carnage the Executioner, Sean Anonymous, Maria Isa and more. “The atmosphere was incredible,” said Kar. “Artists everywhere, painting live. Kids had an opportunity to beatbox with Carnage The Executioner and dance on stage with Crunchy Kids. The energy was simply amazing.”

“There was great energy in the room,” said Rogue Citizen’s Matt Wells. “The open, eight-foot wall – the “guest book” – was there for everyone to paint. There were little kids and grown-ups putting their mark up on a wall for the first time. The final product is great.”

CULTURE continues with a workshop at McNally Smith College of Music Nov. 21 and an artists’ showcase featuring Desdamona, Tall Paul, Greg Grease and more at Minnesota Historical Center Dec. 1. All of the events boast a who’s who of local hip-hop talent, as showcased on the project’s newly released compilation album. Kar claims the uniting factor for CULTURE artists is a dedication to authenticity. “As a musician and singer-songwriter, I look for artists with genuine and honest voices, content that’s relatable, and performance that shows heart and passion. Duke Ellington was right in saying ‘There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.’”

Beyond performance and creativity, Kar and Wells looked for a roster of artists with lessons to share. At this weekend’s Next Level Workshops, educators and performers like rapper Toki Wright, DJ Freddy Fresh and Reies Romero of Universal Zulu Nation Twin Cities will school attendees on hip-hop culture and history, including the roots and progression of the Twin Cities scene. On the visual side, Rogue Citizen artists Dalsen and Blaster will explain the unwritten rules of graffiti writing and street art, as well as the art form’s history and role in current social media and activist movements. Attendees will also get hands-on experience with creative writing, emceeing, turntablism, dancing, beatboxing and other aspects of DIY hip-hop.

Even with all of the star power on hand, Kar says he’s most excited to watch students from McNally Smith’s Hip-Hop Studies program perform their own material at the end of the workshop, and to see how they apply their lessons in the future. “My hope is that they leave with the resources, tools and confidence needed to grow in what they want to do,” said Kar.

“We are learning a lot about the logistics of big, sprawling projects like this,” said Wells. “Kind of like dipping our toes in the ocean for the first time, so going forward we’ll know what to do next time we dive in. I hope attendees come away from CULTURE with a sense that things are possible, and if we don’t have a system that will support the things we want to do, new systems can be created with resources already here. I don’t have any illusions that one hip-hop project is going to change the world, but it might light a fire with some young people who didn’t know a thriving creative community could exist for them, and open the eyes of some old people who thought it was dead.”

CULTURE’s Next Level Workshops take place at McNally Smith College of Music on Nov. 21. The CULTURE Showcase takes place at Minnesota Historical Center Dec. 1. For more information and full lineups, visit or