by Okay Karan
North Park students with a passion for music may be wondering what happened to the annual Fall Music Fest (FMF) held on campus. The festival had been a regular event on campus, organized by SGA and CAB, until the fall of 2014. The 2014 concert was canceled due to scheduling and financial issues, and controversy surrounding the choice of the featured artist has postponed this year's FMF.
The festival historically had not attracted a significant amount of people, but this year the organizers made a shortlist of artists based on student feedback, artist popularity, and cost. In prior years, the festival had mostly brought indie/rock groups to campus such as Noah Gunderson. This year’s shortlist was much different, consisting mostly of hip-hop artists such as Kevin Gates, Danny Brown, A$AP Ferg and Talib Kweli.
GG Flint, Director of Student Activities and advisor to SGA and CAB, explained the cancellation of FMF in previous years as well as the process of planning the next one, “Last year the person that had my position left around September and wasn’t able to fully plan the festival. I came in right before Thanksgiving and by then it was too late to do the FMF. Therefore the festival was canceled last year." Flint was appointed to her position last November and part of her job is to oversee the organization of campus events, among them FMF.
Flint explained that around May of this year preparations began for a FMF for this fall. Eventually, SGA and CAB came up with a list, provided to them by an agent, of around 100 affordable artists. After having received feedback from students, SGA and CAB asked for a shorter list of specifically hip-hop artists that they could get for below $30,000. According to Flint, The Dean of Students, SGA President, Steve Smrt, and Flint "had narrowed the list down to about five or six artists, some of which we knew wouldn’t fit North Park right away. After that, the list was narrowed down to about three artists that we approved, but by then, issues of scheduling and money were too great to fix for the fall semester.”
The main concern was songs that were "demeaning to women and perpetuated rape culture (in light of Title IX work being done on our campus and around the country, this is an important issue to take a stand on), and that used the n-word." Flint expressed that the artist evaluation process was difficult but asserted NPU's values and mission must be respected, “It’s a pretty difficult conversation because we’re using North Park dollars to provide an artist, and if that artist is promoting things that aren’t really in line with our values, can we justify that?” She added that, if they were to put North Park dollars towards artists whose content does not align with the school's values, they are indirectly condoning the content regardless of whether the artists perform it or not.
Some within the North Park community are not satisfied with this reasoning for rejection and the decision has been criticized as unfair prejudice against hip-hop. Former student, current professor, and Spectrum advisor Marcus Simmons asserts that issues with lyrical content and message could easily be settled. “All these artists have released clean versions of their albums. You can ask them to edit or not even perform certain songs, the question is have they even tried that, or do they literally see the list, see it’s a bunch of black people in hip-hop and say, 'No, we don’t want that.'"
With the main concern behind the rejection of certain artists being their content, Flint addressed the possibility of restrictions that could have been in place for these artists, “We definitely could ask them to perform radio edits of their songs and a lot of artists do that when they come to college campuses. I think the issue is that students, first of all, know the lyrics, so they’re going to sing along with it. The artists might not necessarily say the words, but people will and others will know what the song says.”
FMF is paid for by the SGA budget, which is comprised of student activity fees. Since student funds are paying for the event, the reasons for canceling or postponing must be valid. "Essentially [students] give you tuition money so that you can hold a program that they want to have," iterates Simmons, "If you’re going to say that you don’t want to have that program, it has to be for a better reason than 'We don’t like them', or 'We don’t like what they say', because that’s not an insurmountable problem in this case at all.”
Since hip-hop is a music genre largely made up of minorities and works as a de facto voice of people of color within mainstream music, the delicacy of the issue is obvious. Since North Park describes itself as “purposely intercultural”, there is a high expectation for hip-hop to have some sort of presence in musical events on campus. Simmons states: “If this school is going to be diverse, and try to appeal to people, rule number one is don’t ask people what they want if you’re not prepared to get it for them. And if you were to reject their proposal then you need actual criteria to do so. If you have a problem with what the artist is saying then you need to point out what exactly.” Furthermore, Simmons states that there is often effort to check for explicit content in regards to sex, cursing, drugs etc. - but not for an artists stances on issues such as race, gender, or religious freedom.
Understanding that the issue often goes deeper than just music, Flint expressed her belief that: “those thoughts are totally valid. I know that most people in hip-hop are people of color, and most of the indie/rock groups that performed at fall music fest before I came were white so it’s easy to make that connection. I think some people see hip-hop as more aggressive because the content is being performed by people of color, not just because of the content itself." While acknowledging this issue, Flint did not think that was the case here. The North Park student body is very diverse, and she expressed the school's desire to fulfill the wishes of this diverse group - in this case, a hip-hop performance. She asserts that FMF could potentially feature a hip-hop artist, but that the performance ultimately has to reflect North Park's values.
Flint continued to explain that lyrically explicit artists are generally more popular than the lyrically clean artists, creating another issue when trying to feature a well-known artist on campus. FMF should attract a large crowd, especially considering the amount of money that will be spent on the event. She expressed difficulties in balancing an artist's adaptability to North Park values with the artist's popularity. "We had a conversation about bringing in Talib Kweli, whose content is mostly socially conscious," explained Flint, "but students decided it wasn’t worth spending $30,000 on somebody who is not as popular right now as a Waka Flocka, Danny Brown, or Kevin Gates. Even if you listen to the radio, you’ll find that most popular hip-hop is not in the conscious hip-hop realm.”
SGA and CAB are currently planning to hold a music fest during the spring semester. While FMF funds have been saved for this event, the search for the right artist is still ongoing. Students' wishes for a hip-hop act have not gone unnoticed, and it remains to be seen if the organizers will manage to find an artist who fits the event. After two consecutive years of cancellations, Flint thinks FMF is "logistically probable and financially probable," but the bottom line for a successful event is affordability and popularity.