Courtesy of MCT CAMPUS
It seems perfectly appropriate that on a day often set aside for service and helping one’s fellow man, some of the most prominent names in D.C.’s hip-hop community would come together to help defend those people who received so little mercy. And so it was on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that some of D.C.’s popular and transcendent rap and hip-hop acts took the stage at the 9:30 club to raise money for the people of Haiti, who are still searching for the dead after a massive 7.0 earthquake outside the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Wale, D.C.’s big breakout artist of the last couple years, headlined D.C./Maryland/Virgina for Haiti after playing two sold-out shows at the 9:30 club earlier this year. But before he took the stage at the end of the night, a train of local artists preceded, each giving a small set. Tabi Bonney, D.C. Don Juan, Phil Ade, XO, Kingpen Slim, K-Beta, Que, Black Cobain, Bear Witnez and others played while supported by a number of local disc jockeys. Tabi performed a blistering rendition of “The Pocket,” while the only woman on stage, Paula Campbell, who is posed to blow up nationally, belted out a few songs with a voice perfectly suited for R&B radio. D.C. Don Juan’s “Looky Looky” brought the energy in the room to a crest, but the most appreciation was of course given to Wale, who was the main draw for most listeners. Sticking mostly to tracks from his debut LP, “Attention Deficit,” he cycled though his most popular tracks in a full-length set that sated the needs of his biggest local fans.
But DMV for Haiti was not exclusively about the music. Interspersed between sets were speakers from relief organizations, the Hip-Hop Caucus and a special appearance by Ward 5 councilman Harry Thomas, Jr., who appealed to the people of D.C. for further generosity for the people of Haiti. Scenes from the wreckage flashed across a projector behind the stage throughout the night. During the sets, a local painter laid oils on a canvas, painting a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. interspersed with imagery of the Haiti disaster and later did an impromptu picture of Wale as he played his set. These paintings were then auctioned off, bringing in $600 and $1200 respectively, allowing a couple of deep-pocketed hip-hop fans to donate directly and get a piece to put over the fireplace.
DMV for Haiti was organized in less than a week by a number of activists, entrepreneurs, promoters and other organizers. Traced back to a single Tweet on Twitter by Yodit Gebreyes of talkofdc.com, the project snowballed, picking up the support of a large number of people, some of whom have family or friends still in Haiti. It started as a small event at Busboys & Poets, but as more supporters appeared, it became clear that a concert would do the most to bring in donations.
In a press release, Gebreyes explained her passion about the disaster.
“Never before have I felt like I needed to do something to help,” she said. “After watching the news and seeing images of people who have lost everything, I knew that it was our duty as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, citizens, human beings to do the right thing and get involved.”
The concert benefited both Wyclef Jean’s charity Yele Haiti as well as the Partners in Health Organization. The 9:30 club donated its space and the wages of its workers for the night, allowing donations to go as far as possible without worrying about administrative costs.
There is, of course, a precedent to this kind of wide-reaching philanthropy among the hip-hop community. After Hurricane Katrina, some of the most outspoken support for the victims came from rappers and artists. Many have been especially vocal about the crisis in Darfur and other international crises. Rappers donated their time and money to relief funds all over the country, as they are doing now for a different humanitarian disaster. Wyclef Jean, a Haitian native, was one of the first respondents to the disaster, though his charity has recently been accused of indiscretions in handling funds. Hip-hop blogs such as thacorner.net and allhiphop.com provided up-to-the-minute updates on the Haiti earthquake, becoming as reliable a source for information as the most prominent news organizations. Similar concerts are planned across the country, giving people opportunities to engage with their local artists and directly contribute aid.
But the most satisfactory aspect of the night was a sense of city solidarity. Contrasted with the imagery and the talk of disaster, the artists were clearly having fun, happy to play for a packed audience that may not have shown up under different circumstances. For once it seemed a D.C. audience was showing their city’s artists some much needed attention and respect. When each rapper called for the people of the metro area to make noise, it was clear that everyone there was a little bit more proud of the city that they normally take advantage of. And when Wale belts out “Chillin,” essentially a ballad to the streets he grew up on, it becomes less a pop song than a city’s outsider philosophy. It makes sense that a disaster in a country people think too little about would bring D.C. together, if only for one night, in support of natives and outsiders.