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A hip-hop state of union

By Staff | Nov 24, 2008

West Virginia has a certain image that isn’t necessarily helping it in the global economy where talented, skilled people can live and work anywhere they want. Studies show that young people and professional people value diversity and want to live where they can enjoy diverse cultural offerings — and that includes hip-hop.

West Virginia, being the least ethnically diverse state in the nation, struggles with its image in the area of diversity and the state’s low percentage of a diverse population makes it difficult to attract different cultural and entertainment options. However, you will see from the Top 10 West Virginia Hip-Hop Moments that the Mountain State indeed has a hip-hop culture and that culture is evolving.

These are some defining moments that will go down in West Virginia hip-hop history.

1. 1981-1992: MC Hammer Concerts, Charleston —Without a doubt the signature hip-hop event of the late ’80s and early ’90s were the multiple MC Hammer concerts at the Civic Center. Not only did Hammer put on an unforgettable show, but he also sold tickets to diverse crowds of black, white and brown people wearing polka dots shirts and balloon pants. To date MC Hammer is the largest selling hip-hop concert artist in West Virginia history.

2. 1991-2002: Club Concepts, Huntington — Club Concepts is a legendary hip-hop venue, not just for its longevity but for the artist who performed there: OutKast, Das EFX, DMX and Method Man to name a few. The club started in the true hip-hop entrepreneurship spirit with a Marshall University student and now successful attorney William H. Harding, who saw the need and was tired of  “NO HATS, NO JERSEYS, NO SNEAKERS” signs at the door of most clubs. Club Concepts chose to embrace “urban” entertainment and hip-hop fashion. Successful for over a decade, Concepts featured some of the fiercest local MC and DJ Battles and launched the ever evolving career of DJ Sexy Bill.

3. 1997: The Beat 98.7  WRVZ, Kanawha/ Putnam counties — If you lived in Kanawha and Putnam Counties before 1997 and you wanted to listen to hip-hop music your choices were: vinyl, cassette tapes, AM 1490 during certain hours of the week (and for most you had to hold your radio a certain way with an aluminum foil antenna just to pick up the crackling signal) or  West Virginia State College Campus Radio with DJ Quick on Friday nights. Then along came DJ Woody Woods and 98.7.

4. 2002: LL Cool J at Multifest — In 2002 the LL Cool J performance goes down as legendary. LL “knocked out” an intergeneration audience with his bare chest and raw energy during the free concert on the West Virginia Capital Grounds.  

5. 2003: 50 Cent Concert, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown —50 came to West Virignia at his peak, during the “Get Rich or Die Trying Tour.” He was the first hip-hop artist to perform at the WVU Coliseum and he SOLD OUT. The concert changed the local demand for the hip-hop and “urban” events. The trickle down effect from the 50 Cent concert has been evident as the downtown clubs are accepting more hip-hop into their venues and the diversity of hip-hop entrepreneurs like Eric Jordan and the local Sound Vizions label.    

6. 2004: Hip-hop Boot Camp — In the summer of 2004, WVSU and 4-H began offering a new and exciting camping opportunity for middle school youth called the Hip-Hop Boot Camp. The week-long camp is an opportunity for students to learn about all aspects of the music industry, from the business skills involved in selling your music, to exercise and nutrition information. The successful camp has spun off the school year program: Beats, Rhymes, and Life.

7. 2004: Lil’ John and Ying Yang at the Huntington Field House — The first and only hip-hop concert to sell out in Huntington. The 2006 Lil’ Wayne concert and the 2007 Neo and Lloyd concerts came close to selling out but to date Lil’ John and the Ying Yang Twins hold the title. Lil’ John and the Ying Yang Twins did as much for Huntington as 50 did for Morgantown by qualifying hip-hop as a marketable and profitable entertainment that created a mainstream demand for the genre and encouraged local hip-hop artists and promoters like Eric Easley and E2 Entertainment.

8.  2005: 6’6” 240 Gold and Blue Theme Song —In mid August of 2005 6’6” 240 released on the Sound Vizions label the single   “Gold N Blue.” The lyrics described the WVU Football team and immediately went No. 1 on WVAQ and stayed No. 1 for eight weeks. WVU offered 6’6” 240 the opportunity to play his singe during the pregame to over 60,000 fans.

9. 2008 Create WV Conference Hip-Hop Showcase and Panel, Snowshoe —At the Second Annual Create WV Conference on top of Snowshoe Mountain,  West Virginia First Lady Gayle Manchin, West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Kelly Goes, along with 300 other conference attendees grooved to an entertainment showcase that featured Jartuthra, DJ Monsta Lung, Ace Beans and 6’6” 240.

Create WV focuses on the economic and creative class development in West Virginia and brought some of the state’s premiere hip-hop artists and scholars to discuss how West Virginia can grow and nurture non-traditional cultural groups and economic opportunities through the musical genre. The panel discussion was standing room only and included a broad range of ages, ethnicities and backgrounds.

10. 2008 TI Concert, Charleston — There hasn’t been a major hip-hop artist in Charleston since Snoop Dog performed at the Municipal Auditorium in 2004 selling just over 1, 000 tickets.  In fact it’s been eight years since the Charleston Civic Center booked a major artist and that was Puff Daddy. Now Atlantic recording artist T.I. — and Flo Rida — is slated to sell out on Nov. 30. Along with the Grammy Award-winning artist comes his team of business partners anxious and eager to explore unique markets for T.I.’s business ventures that range from a clothing line to the online movement www.streetcred.com and Grand Hustle Comedy. Perhaps T.I. will find a loyal audience in West Virginia and return, allowing The King of the South to rein over the 1982-1992 legend of MC Hammer as the largest selling hip-hop concert artist in state history.   

Contact Crystal at cnazario@graffitiwv.com