Hip-Hop Harambee returns for a second year

Big K.R.I.T. will headline Hip-Hop Harambee 2013
Courtesy of Big K.R.I.T.

Jake Heinitz first heard the word "harambee" a couple of years ago during a trip to Kenya with a friend visiting family. The Swahili word, meaning "all pull together," ties into the nation's tradition of community activities and shared experiences. When he returned, Heinitz took charge of creating a yearly event reflecting those values in Minneapolis, and he called it Hip-Hop Harambee.

"We're trying to create traditions," he says.

In 2012, headliner Talib Kweli as well as a spirited bill of local talent like Sims, Big Zach, Lizzo, and Audio Perm took over an outdoor stage in the Nomad World Pub's parking lot. It was nothing short of a success, but Heinitz and co-organizer rapper Manny Phesto hope to do even more for its second running on Saturday.

"People told me I'd have culture shock going [to Kenya]; I had culture shock when I came back," says Heinitz. "We tried to be more intentional on educating people on what Harambee means this year. We'll have some facts [situated inside] so people walking around can kind of educate themselves. Some facts about hip-hop, facts about Minneapolis."

The idea of Harambee guided every step of the decision-making process. Equal representation of women and men was a chief concern, as was pushing for an all-ages event. Again hosted in and around the Nomad, the event has expanded this year.

"We got a lot of ideas from people," says Manny. "I bounced almost everything off of older homies that we look up to in the community, got some feedback, just to try and make it bigger than what it was. More of a community thing than just a concert."

Among this year's attractions are an arts area, complete with food trucks, games, and gallery-curated walls. Graffiti artists will create five separate murals alongside break dancers, live painting, henna tattoos, face-painting, and a Last of the Record Buyers producer showcase. A bike dance party will descend from Loring Park onto the Nomad beforehand, to be met by a drum circle right when doors open.

Still, the main draw remains the music. Headliners Big K.R.I.T., Shabazz Palaces, and Devin the Dude are each some of the most respected acts within their distinct realms of hip-hop. The artists are pared down since last year, yet represent a larger scope. From the reggae of Dred I Dread and the International Reggae All-Stars, to the spacy electronics of Vandaam, to the deep-groove R&B of K. Raydio and Psymun, the hip-hop spectrum has widened to include sister genres and create a more rounded vibe. "We're trying to introduce all these artists to new audiences that wouldn't necessarily see them," Manny continues.

Even familiar names like Toki Wright and Lizzo are participating with entirely new projects. Each has paired with a famed local producer — Toki teaming with Big Cats for Pangaea, and Lizzo and Lazerbeak's project is Lizzobangers — to become a new group with a fresh sound. In both cases, the Harambee will be one of the first opportunities to hear these artists' new directions.

"Everybody that's on that stage is poised to have a big year," says Toki Wright. "I'm really looking forward to Shabazz Palaces, [they] had a big influence on me the past few years. To just do something [and not] care what's going on in the industry right now.... If you don't dig it, that's because you're not ready... whoever [does is] going to have the time of their life." None of the artists knew the lineup prior to its announcement, but those City Pages talked to were impressed.

"I think they did a hell of a job putting that lineup together," says Big Cats. "There's a ton of work that goes into getting even one of those acts. It's not trapped in any one genre, any one style; you've got people from all over the country."

The organizers are capitalizing on the occasion by releasing their personal projects during the Harambee. Both Manny Phesto's new album, South Side Looking In, with Mike the Martyr, and Heinitz's arts and culture print publicatio, Greenroom Magazine, will be given out for free. There's a spirit in this event that's beyond music-industry consumerism, and fans will feel the difference when they gather to take it all in.

"Last year was so beautiful, I really wanted to be a part of it this year," says Lizzo. "I'm going to be excited and engaged the whole time, which is rare for a festival. It's going to be a really good day."

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