By Lynn Lieu
Sponsored by Fender, the Second Annual Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival’s Battle of the Bands (set to take place on February 18) boasts a first prize of over a thousand dollars’ worth of equipment provided by the popular musical instrument corporation. With much more at stake than last year’s competition, it’s clear that Fair and Festival officials have learned their lessons after the blowback the county received when word got out that the 2010 musical competition came with strings; “no rap” strings, specifically.
Last year, Riverside County decided to add a Battle of the Bands component to its Fair and Festival as a fun way to draw local youth talent. However, organizers also received an earful of complaints, some crying foul and alleging musical prejudice, when the Battle of the Bands application explicitly stated, “No rap music” or “No rap” a total of three times. The stipulation drew a lot of attention from fans, artists and advocates of that particular genre. Some of the biggest outcries came from Tha Juke Joint, a San Bernardino-based hip-hop radio talk show on KNBC/KCAA.
“We were upset about it and the initial thing we were going to do was to line up an event to make sure we address it,” says Eddie “Eternal” Talbert Jr, one of the hosts of Tha Juke Joint. “However, [with] the location we picked out, at the time, [the city] didn’t let us do it because of licensing issues. I’ve been in Riverside for over 30 years and I know how the city deals with this […] They’ve done a good job at disenfranchising the hip-hop demographic locally and I would say [in] San Bernardino County as well. It made it extremely challenging to do anything locally.”
Tha Juke Joint was designed to serve as a local outlet for hip-hop talent and info, promoting and marketing local talent.
“It was ‘No Hip-hop Acts.’ Initially it was ‘No Rap,’” Talbert adds. “Primarily what was happening was [that] they went out of their way to exclude hip-hop and when they were challenged on it, they said something to the [effect] that they wanted to deal with something that had instruments. Obviously there are a variety of different hip-hop acts that make use of live instruments [editor’s note: Hello, The Roots!] and they didn’t really take that into account at all and they weren’t willing to make any compromises.”
When the topic of hip-hop artists that play live music in their acts was brought to attention, event spokesman Noel Loughrin had this to say:
“[The application] was just worded incorrectly; we were just looking for live music. We’re looking for a band. We don’t care what the lyrics are as long as they’re clean for families […] It wasn’t that we weren’t looking for hip-hop artists. We didn’t want any prerecording anything. So it was just perhaps worded wrong on the application. I mean, hip-hop artists are welcome to come as long as they have live music behind their vocals. That’s what we were trying to get [across] last year. Unfortunately I did not word that correctly.”
“They just need to be a little more conscientious when dealing with a culture group they’re not familiar with,” says Michael “Mic Flex” Dixon, another Juke Joint radio personality. “The whole thing is: How are they going to rectify it this year? The people they’re excluding are their own kids. They need to sit down with guys like us in order to put things together in a way that [won’t] offend anyone.”
Moving forward with this year’s competition, the county application has removed the “No Rap Music” guideline.