I put off writing about this earlier this weekend but I now feel like it is probably time to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
This morning I got an e-mail from my Dad that was one line: "Please tell me you were nowhere near Chop Suey on Saturday night." I wasn't; I was actually at home in bed. What I wrote back was something like I was not there but I have been to dozens of hip hop shows and have never once felt unsafe. I did not add that I will have been to more hip hop shows than you're comfortable with but not enough to support a scene I wish to see flourish.
As you probably know by now, Chop Suey was the location of a shooting in the middle of a hip hop show on Saturday night. The show's host, 29-E, was killed and two others injured when a gunman entered the side door of the club and opened fire.
Discussions on Slog were pretty intense and many commenters were eager to blame hip hop in general. The PI wrote "Seattle has seen other fatal shootings recently at venues and clubs hosting hip-hop groups." With all do respect to the city's best daily newspaper, I would like to see one other example aside from Saturday night's incident. They mention a November shooting outside of Vito's Madison Grill, a shooting from almost a year ago outside of The Baltic Room and one outside of Level Five near Seattle Center in October 2007. There was also a shooting outside of the Sugar bar last year (which was later reopened as the rock club the King Cobra).
All of the other events mentioned were DJ events playing hip hop or top 40 music. Not one was another live performance. This is not an insignificant detail.
I've been to several hip hop shows over the past few years and have never come close to feeling unsafe. Whether it was the packed Memorial Stadium to watch Nas and Public Enemy at Bumbershoot or the ridiculously successful 5 night Program at Neumo's at the end of 2007 where Blue Scholars headlined five straight shows (all sold out) or the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA last summer, I've always felt like the crowds were more respectful of the performers and into the music than at many of the indie rock shows I have been to.
From what I can tell, this shooting Saturday night was a personal issue that took place because the assailant knew where the victims were going to be. I'm not so naive to suggest that there is no violent imagery in hip hop and that it never translates to real-life violence – I'm only saying that live hip hop shows attract a different audience than top 40/hip hop dance club nights do and to equate the same is convenient at best and irresponsible at worst.
What I am saying is that is that there appears to be a rush to judgment and an eagerness to blame hip hop but no credible person in the hip hop community approves of this act. While I have no contacts to poll, I am certain they all believe this event is damaging to the scene they've helped build. My fear is that the immediate "knee-jerk" reaction will lead to increased regulation and scrutiny of a community that is being unfairly maligned.
Moreover, by assigning blame to a community or scene, you are indirectly paving the way for the defense of the truly guilty people. "How could my client have any other fate than what happened Saturday night, he grew up listening to NWA and conditioned him to believe there is no other option." Hip hop has its own problems to deal with, of course, but it didn't kill 29-E on Saturday night.
I genuinely believe this is an isolated incident that can be addressed with greater security at clubs. This was an act of murder and the Seattle Police Department already have two suspects in its custody. The justice system is there to let this action take its course.
Northwest hip hop need not suffer from the actions of a few individuals with private axes to grind and scores to settle.