Miami Is Suffering From an Epidemic of Shitty Rap Shows

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A few days ago — and I won't say where — I went to a South Florida rap show. The smell of cheap marijuana filled the venue, kids with backpacks and DSLRs crowded the front of the stage, and the DJ played someone’s unmastered track straight from Soundcloud using an aux cord.

I knew I was going to be in for one hell of a night.

As the show carried on, the host — or lack thereof — proceeded to shout out his homies like he just won a Grammy before allowing each of the 27 artists to enjoy his three minutes of stage time. The set was a complete bust. Through the muffled, crumbling bass, one thought rang clear in my mind: Is putting on a quality hip-hop show that hard?

Short answer: yes.

Putting on a rap show, or any type of event, is much harder than it seems. You’re expected to create a memorable experience for your attendees while juggling logistics with artists and venues and putting out spur-of-the-moment mishaps with sound equipment while dealing with drama from late DJs who happen to have accidentally locked their equipment in their Mazdas. To top it off, every attendee is apparently on the nonexistent guest list. 

Let's take this one step at a time. One of the biggest recurring problems with South Florida rap shows is sound. It doesn't take an expert ear to identify poor sound quality and unmastered music, but it's not always the artists' faults. They, just as much as anybody, find it pretty damn important to make sure they don't sound like they are rapping underwater. For Noski, a Miami-based rapper from the trio Rap Supreme, sound is key. “Something that should be at the forefront of producing a hip-hop show seems to be one of the last things taken care of,” he says. “Most don’t even offer a sound check for the performing artists, and if they do, many times the sound check is merely to give the DJ the set list for the night.”Ideally, a sound check not only allows artists to get a feel for their upcoming performance but also allows the DJ, the artist, and the audio technician to get on the same page — a page consisting of nonshitty sound. But some promoters are too busy pregaming before their events to bother. They should probably postpone that Hennessy to double-check that someone remembered to buy microphones.

Another huge problem with local shows is the fee. And, no, I’m not talking about the ticket price, but the common South Florida practice known as pay to play that's become expected for unknown local performers. In many cases, artists are expected to pay a fee anywhere from $25 to $1,000 to perform or open up for a bigger artist. It was a practice used at Rolling Loud 2016, and, as we saw, many artists were unhappy with what their money got them.

In other cases, promoters offer alternatives, like allowing artists to sell tickets themselves. Fort Lauderdale rapper Xali’s recent goal was to sell his allotted tickets for Hidden Ruby’s annual Blvck Summer rap showcase. The Fort Lauderdale-based concert, which went down on August 5, was to be headlined by Bizzy Crook (who didn’t show up), Key!, and Maxo Kream. “I had to sell 15 tickets for $25 each, and I got to keep a percentage of the sale. I ended up selling ten tickets and giving away two,” he says. Luckily, since he had a relationship with the promoters from past shows, they let him perform anyway and not pay back the difference from the tickets he didn't sell.On paper, this seems to be a slightly more ethical version of the pay-to-play system. Still, we should do better. Imagine, if you can, a day when local talent is sought out — admired, even — and paid adequately for their time and effort. Beautiful, isn't it?   

One of the biggest problems with local rap shows doesn't happen before the concert begins but during it. Crowded lineups can absolutely ruin a rap concert. If you’re squinting at a show flyer, trying to find your homeboy on the lineup while simultaneously realizing you need glasses, it's safe to say the show is oversaturated. “These flyers for virtually unknown artists are starting to look like a 20-word vocabulary quiz," Noski says. The group has seen backstage areas that look more like hospital waiting rooms. Some 20-odd rappers performing in a short span of time often leads to people going over their set times or having to cut songs in half.

One time, I watched an artist perform one verse, one hook, and then get booed offstage by angry guests wanting to get on with it. Lately, stacking up artists like Jenga pieces has become the norm. But there is a pretty obvious solution, according to Noski: Cut back.

“Focusing on quality rather than quantity, promoters should headline artists that will bring out the type of fans they are targeting," he explains. "Once that's done, they should thoughtfully plan out the performance list so performers complement each other or lead up to whatever vibe the headlining act will have."

It's a lot of different factors to consider. But if even one of them goes ignored, the consequences can be horrible.

I've seen it happen: The feedback from the mic blaring into the 54-person crowd as the last performer shouts out his producer for the "fire ass beat." The stage, which was poorly constructed, caving in a bit as the artist and his crew walk off to greet a handful of friends that seem to have really enjoyed what I felt was the worst three minutes of my life. Many of these production issues require a simple fix that can make local entertainment a lot more enjoyable for the artists and the attendees. Together, both artists and promoters can fix this. To paraphrase our old pal Smokey the Bear (who actually had a very brief shitty rap career himself), only we can end shitty rap shows.

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