Song of Katrina

Sep 28, 2005 at 12:00 am

It’s funny how hip hop and politics sometimes come together. No sooner than Kanye West was on TV jawing about his disdain of President George W. Bush than the hip-hop community at large began taking relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina as a personal responsibility.

Some of hip hop’s more obscure figures, like Baby, Juvenile and Master P, all of New Orleans, along with Mississippi rapper David Banner, began organizing Katrina benefits. Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, Sean Combs and other slick bigwigs sent oodles of cash. BET held a fund-raiser. The list goes on and on.

It seems that countless hip-hop artists have stepped up to the plate to suggest that “hip hop” and “community” might be synonymous again. And from what we can tell, these actions are altruistic, more about showing empathy and commitment than using Katrina as springboards for publicity.

And in Michigan, DJs and emcees have — in an unusual show of group harmony — rallied to benefit those affected by the deadly storm.

On the Saturday after Katrina hit, Detroit’s DJ Houseshoes invited a handful of friends — including Marv-One (Fat Killahz), Black Milk, 87 (Wasted Youth) and Finale — to do a benefit at Detroit’s Northern Lights. With no advance publicity, the impromptu show raised more than $1,000 for hurricane victims.

“I planned to do an afterparty for the Public Enemy concert, but after I saw what happened with the hurricane, I was like fuck that,” Houseshoes says. “Somebody had to do something besides just watching that shit on television 24 hours a day.”

Houseshoes soon discovered that organizing a benefit isn’t easy, and locating a trustworthy organization to facilitate the proceeds can be equally difficult.

“You hear the rumors about the Red Cross and wonder where the money really goes,” Houseshoes says. “We wanted to find something more direct where the funds could be put to good use immediately.”

Houseshoes (with friend Kyle Kentala, a bartender at Northern Lights) found a San Francisco-based charity called Rebuild Green. Because the postal service in New Orleans isn’t fully operational, Rebuild Green wires donations to the Common Grounds Collective, a deeper-than-grassroots organization entrenched in the predominantly black community of Algiers on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Common Grounds is Algiers’ post-storm lifeline. The organization got permission from Muslim clerics to set up a health clinic inside a local mosque. Aside from medical supplies donated by a crew of French doctors, they’re operating solely on donations. They’ve treated more than 1,000 people since mid-September.

Common Grounds’ coordinator, Malik Rahim, says Algiers has received no assistance from the Red Cross or FEMA. He believes those relief efforts discriminate against black communities. He says that white vigilante groups have threatened to shut down Common Grounds’ makeshift clinic.

Rahim welcomes the compassion and donations from Detroit’s hip-hop community.

“It means a lot that the young brothers and sisters up there are being progressive and reaching out,” Rahim says, via telephone from New Orleans. In the same breath, his gratefulness becomes an entreaty: “Tell the folks up there to send money and supplies down here as fast as possible. We could also use some volunteers too. Come see where your money is going. See where it’s needed. Show some solidarity.”

On the eve of Hurricane Katrina, hip-hop promoters Jay Mills and Uncle P (who double as proprietors of pulled a benefit out of the hat. Their DJ extravaganza in Wayne featured DJ Benny Ben, DJ Primeminister, P-Dog (the Turntable Bully) and DJ Babe. WJLB’S Foolish hosted.

“Just knowing the geography of New Orleans and the fact that it’s below sea level, I was like, well, let’s see if we can raise some money as quickly as possible ’cause shit’s about to be catastrophic down there,” Mills says.

Through word of mouth, Mills and Uncle P raised $1,200.

“People were just walking in off of the street and making donations,” Mills says, still astounded. “And Foolish was one of the biggest donors of the night.”

After Mills saw a local TV news piece involving 14 New Orleans evacuees who rolled into Detroit in one Jeep Grand Cherokee — after four of their cars had died along the way — he knew where to donate the proceeds.

Mills tracked down the Louisiana faction — who are now living gratis at a Sterling Heights hotel — and made the donation. He didn’t know there was a hip-hop connection.

One of those evacuees is Sterling Adams. The father of four lost his house, his job and most of his belongings. He also lost his record label and recording studio. But his family made it here safely and Adams says he’s thankful.

“That was lovely what the folks in the rap community did for us in Detroit,” Adams says. “I thank God for the rappers here in Michigan. People really looked out for us since we’ve been here and that’s been nothing but a blessing.”

The 34-year-old Adams — who’s a Cajun chef by trade — owns an indie hip-hop label called Clique Tight Records. He hopes to move his star emcee, Martyr, to Detroit within the next two months.

The folks — who are now Martyr fans — have promised to help make the emcee’s transition into the Detroit hip-hop community a smooth one.

“God put us in touch with people in the hip-hop industry up here in Detroit, and that’s been a separate blessing all in itself,” Adams says. “If I can just get these [Martyr] CDs in the right hands, I’m praying somebody in the music industry in Detroit will send for Martyr in less time than two months.”

Adams’ concern now is finding work and transportation. He hopes to have his label, which will be based here, up and running soon.

DJ Addverse (aka Jamie Wilkins) has family in Biloxi, Miss., including a mother whose house was destroyed by Katrina. Wilkins owns a record store and is a longtime Michigan promoter and DJ. With help from friends, Wilkins threw a Katrina fund-raiser last Friday at East Lansing’s Temple Club.

The show — which featured Gambit the MC, FreshBace, DJ Superlative, DJ Collective, Nu Poet, Dante from Switchstance, and Cleveland’s Darkstarz — didn’t raise as much coin as expected, but Wilkins says she’s more interested in collecting vital supplies for Katrina survivors. She’s driving to Biloxi to help her mother and to set up a refuge where people can get supplies.

“We’re making the effort and doing our part — I just wish we could all do more,” Wilkins says.

Tre Styles of Ann Arbor’s Athletic Mic League agrees. The outspoken Alabama native, who has a sister in Baton Rouge, can’t sit back and watch. Hence the ridiculous hip-hop show that his new production company, Sonny Star Promotions, is promoting at the Necto in Ann Arbor this weekend. It’ll feature the entire Subterraneous crew, S.U.N., Chapter 13 from North Carolina and AML. It should be noted that Subterraneous and AML haven’t rocked a show together in ages. It promises to be one of the better hip-hop shows of the year.

“People can bring money, canned goods, clothes, supplies or whatever,” Styles says. “Everybody’s got to donate something.”

Styles says the money raised will most likely be distributed among the Katrina evacuees now in southeastern Michigan.

“There’s so many people in Detroit and Southfield that need help just as bad as people in New Orleans and Mississippi,” Styles says. “Since they’re already up here, why not give the money to someone that can use it immediately? It would be better than wasting time with a big money organization that we don’t know anything about.”

These benefits are as much about social awareness as anything. It’s a kindness born of labor and heart and commitment. And it speaks volumes for the mind-set of many Detroit musicians.


Athletic Mic League, S.U.N. Chapter 13 and Subterraneous perform Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Necto (510 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor; 734-994-5436). DJ Graffiti hosts the official afterparty at the Firefly Club (207 S. Ashley, Ann Arbor; 734 665-9090).

Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]