Hip-hop has taken over Milwaukee. The popularity surrounding the genre is being used as a way to spark conversations about social issues through the city's inaugural Hip-Hop Week, which kicked off Monday at Miller High Life Theatre downtown.
In addition to performances by artists this week, hip-hop music has been incorporated into a series of events. They focus on things like financial literacy, health and employment opportunities.
“It’s kind of hard to explain hip-hop to somebody who isn’t familiar with it, but if you are one of those individuals who have been touched by hip-hop, who has been given direction and a sense of purpose by this music, then it’s without saying, you understand the connection," said Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey who spearheaded the event.
Support from local officials and companies helped Rainey bring the week to life. The alderman says hip-hop music and culture is alive and well in the city.
He says the goal is to reach people with hip-hop in ways that perhaps haven't been done before. “We’re going to take the platform of hip-hop and utilize it to improve the quality of life for the people here in the city of Milwaukee."
One of those ways is through health and wellness.
Ascension St. Joseph Hospital hosted a health fair Wednesday to bring attention to the importance of healthy living — especially in the African American community — whether it be through encouraging frequent doctors’ visits or healthy eating.
Tying in the hip-hop, the event opened with a conversation between musical guest Masta Ace and Don Black of the local radio station Jammin 98.3. Ace is a rapper and producer from New York.
Their conversation included talk about Ace’s evolution in hip-hop. They reminisced with the audience about changes they’ve seen in the industry.
Ace also talked about his own health battle with multiple sclerosis (MS). Since his diagnosis, Ace said he’s made healthy lifestyle changes and has seen results.
His story touched on a commonly held notion about health in the black community: that many African Americans aren’t fans of going to the doctor. Black also brought attention to it.
Ace hopes using hip-hop culture in the conversation about health can change people’s minds about taking better care of themselves. “I think sometimes hearing something from an artist might have more impact than your mom, or your dad, or your brother telling you, you need to do something," he said. "Maybe hearing it from somebody whose music you love, you enjoy, and you follow talking about health, maybe it opens your eyes and makes you look at stuff in a different way.”
Ace also said Hip-Hop week has a special value to Milwaukee.
“This is just an opportunity for black people to come together for something positive and talk about something positive and to push the conversations forward from a social standpoint, but just also from a music standpoint," he said. "And just us all connecting culturally and having that cultural exchange with each other I think is important.”
Judging from the interest of dozens in the audience, it seems that many Milwaukeeans find Hip-Hop Week to be important as well.
Melody Williams was one of them. She also has MS and attended the health fair to learn more about it — but also to learn more about hip-hop music.
She said this weeklong celebration is something the city needed.
“The black community needs a positive light shined on it and this is just that. It’s a nice event. We don’t get much,” Williams said.
Hip-Hop Week lasts through Sunday and has more in store, including a job fair and musical performances.
Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.
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