Brooklyn Bodega supports positive hip-hop—music that builds community and works as a force for social change. The organization declares on its website that it “demand[s] a higher level of hip-hop programming and [is] willing to go to great lengths to back it,” in large part by organizing The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, now in its seventh year. We reached out to Wes Jackson, founder of Brooklyn Bodega and executive director of the Hip-Hop Festival, to hear about why Brooklyn needed a hip-hop festival, and how it got one.
Are there any misperceptions of hip-hop you could dispel?
Hip-hop is used as a code word for “urban” that in itself is a code word for “black.” Hip-hop is actually one of the most diverse representations of revolutionary culture. From conflicts in Palestine, South Africa, Egypt and Korea, hip-hop is used as an expression of rage against the system. Hip-hop is the international sound of “The Revolution.”
Why did you start this hip-hop festival?
After attending the New Orleans’ Jazz Fest in 2004, I decided that Brooklyn needed an event like that, which would unite legends as well as the new blood. In the Mecca of hip-hop, we needed a physical place for the art to grow and progress. The festival is now an annual congregation of fans, local and international, to come and appreciate the culture of hip-hop. In addition to this annual event, Brooklyn Bodega is creating a physical destination where fans of the genre could congregate and share ideas by opening a restaurant in the Dekalb Market in conjunction with the festival’s start date that will serve as a eating place, a bar, a music spot—in other words, a Bodega.
How has the festival grown over the last seven years?
In the first four years, we doubled in size each year by getting bigger, better and longer. The festival has gone from one afternoon in 2005 to six full days of programming in 2011. This event was never intended to be insular—of Brooklyn, for Brooklyn—but to invite people not from the borough to come and experience what we live everyday. As a result, we have expanded our international fan base, youth focused programming and overall demographics.
What about Brooklyn connects it to hip-hop—and vice versa?
Culturally, hip-hop started in the Bronx and was perfected in Brooklyn. In the last ten years, some of the most influential acts have come from Brooklyn: Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and first icons Big Daddy Kane, Special Ed, MC Lyte.
On your website, you pledge to “re-chalk the context of today’s hip-hop culture.” What do you mean by that?
Brooklyn Bodega’s mission is to repaint the complex mosaic that is hip-hop culture. More than music, it encompasses fashion, sports, politics, business, technology and spirituality. Much more than black males rhyming on-stage, hip-hop is the voice of a nation, both young and old. The first generation of fans is 50 years plus, passing on their knowledge to their grandkids. Again, this isn’t just about music anymore.
Why did you choose Tobacco Warehouse as your venue?
We choose this space back in 2006 because even back then we were anticipating the growth of the festival and needed a venue that would grow with us. In 2010, the main day of the Festival moved under Brooklyn Bridge into the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza. As Brooklyn Bridge Development Corporation continues to improve the park and piers, we see ourselves here for the foreseeable future. No other venue can hold the capacity of fans that this space can… Think about it. This Festival is truly New York City and Brooklyn incarnate. Where else in New York City can you stand in one spot and view the downtown skyline, Governor’s island, all three bridges and the Statue of Liberty? The kicker is that this space is in walking distance from a number of subway stops and the water taxi. Compare that to Bonaroo that is out on a farm, Coachella a desert, Rock The Bells on an island and Hot 97’s Summer Jam in New Jersey!
Your offices are in DUMBO; there’s nothing particularly “hip-hop” about DUMBO, is there?
DUMBO is absolutely hip-hop! Brooklyn Bodega has had our offices in this area for over 11 years. There are actually many hip-hop themed operations in DUMBO, including but not limited to PNCRadio.fm, 10 Deep, Waxpoetics, Rocksmith. Also, legendary emcees Mos Def and Busta Rhymes live here.
More info here.