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Hip hop battles homelessness

DJ Butter & Dez  COURTESY PHOTO

DJ Butter & Dez
COURTESY PHOTO

By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Some of the city’s best rap artists will donate their talents to benefit the homeless at a special hip hop concert on Nov. 9. The coalition, Hip Hop Elevation, will raise funds from ticket sales and request donations of canned foods and gently used coats and clothing to be given to the those in need.

DJ Butter and DJ Los will provide the sounds for emcees including Awesome Dre, Kuniva of D12, Finale, Seven the General, Miz Korona, Big Herk, Big Gov, Strike, Mr. Cliffnote, B-Side, Ron D, The Brothahood, Sheefy McFly and more. Uncle P of DetroitRap.com is the evening’s host and Yusef Bunchy Shakur will handle the donations.

“At this point I’m really trying to connect with people who feel passionate about this,” says DJ Dez Andres, one of the city’s most accomplished hip hop DJs and co-organizer of the event with DJ Butter.

Hip Hop Elevation is a rare opportunity for many Detroit hip hop pioneers to come together for a cause. Many of these artists are celebrated globally as innovators, however, in their hometown mainstream radio artists capture most of the rap music listeners.

“It’s a good way to connect a lot of people,” says DJ Dez. “We all may not deal with each other on a day-to-day basis or even have much of a relationship, but we have that common thread and can be passionate about giving back to the community in various ways.”

The lack of communication and cooperation among Detroit hip hop artists described by DJ Dez dates back to the late 1990s when some of the city’s artists began receiving major record deals. The once unified hip hop community was spoiled by bad contracts, false promises and jealousy — a missed opportunity for creating a local independent hip hop music industry.

Miz Korona and Strike, who will both perform at the concert, are known for their rapping roles in the Hollywood blockbuster film “8 Mile,” which starred Eminem and depicted the Detroit hip hop scene of the 1990s. Neither artist received the necessary support from their music industry associates to sign a major label deal, but they have continued performing as independent artists to this day.

“Detroit hip hop is becoming extinct; the whole movement is extinct,” says Strike. “I think we can do more, I think we can do better.”

Strike was in prison for eight months when “8 Mile” was released, unable to take advantage of his international exposure. He was able to make the transition from prison without ending up on the streets, though many end up homeless after their incarceration.

“Just looking at the social and economic structure in the community right now, it’s so damaged and destroyed,” says Strike. “We need to give back; we need to do something to make them realize what’s going on.”

Helping the community is a major priority for many from that era. The pressure of the money and fame surrounding groups like D12, who sold millions of albums, made many lose focus on the art and goal of using hip hop to help the city rise up.

“For a long time since the D12 era, Detroit had lost its mojo,” says Strike. “That era divided so many people and put so many people against each other — people who were friends and came up with each other  — and now these same people are now coming back to do business with each other. D12 has gone and dropped and no longer a part of Shady Records, now the same people who were put into a room of negativity, these people are now walking hand-in-hand and doing business with a positive atmosphere.”

DJ Butter, another Detroit hip hop pioneer, says their community has a long history of helping those in need. “Back in the days, we always had a community thing going on,” he says. “But it was never that much identified. (There were) always certain people (involved) from the Zulu Nation, certain people from some of the Muslim organizations.”

As his colleagues continue to age, DJ Butter says the reality of homelessness and poverty are beginning to creep into the very same hip hop community, so it’s important the issue is addressed. “A lot of my friends are starting to say they’re homeless themselves,” he says. “I didn’t even know that.”

He continues, “A lot of these guys who have been trying to get their talent off have neglected their bodies,” says DJ Butter. “The community had been rich in the culture … there’s a lot of talented people here. But, (the artistic life) takes a lot of energy out.”

Hip Hop Elevation is an opportunity for these talented men and women to appease their past differences and work together to take the next step towards building an industry and giving back to the community.

Hip Hop for the Homeless takes place at the Magic Stick (4140 Woodward Ave. Detroit) on Nov. 9. The show starts at 9 p.m.; tickets are $5.

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