Will Thuggish Hip-hop Culture Destroy Austin's SXSW?
It is Austin's most important and coolest festival: South by Southwest. But after two gun-related incidents at this year's SXSW, both involving volatile hip-hop crowds on March 18 and 20, the festival's organizers and Austin's liberal political leaders must be in a panic -- wondering how to get rid of all the thuggish hip-hop shows while maintaining their high-minded values of political correctness.
The mayhem at SXSW's music week together with other hip-hop thuggishness over the years -- including the deaths of four festivalgoers three years ago caused by a black rapper who was eluding police in a stolen car -- has stirred public outrage. The talk on social media and in online posts in recent days has veered into the politically incorrect, with many slamming hip-hop's thuggish culture. They worry that unsavory rappers and volatile hip-hoppers have hijacked large swaths of SXSW -- and are causing mayhem that now overshadows SXSW's trendy music, film festival, and hi-tech media exhibits and trade shows, among other events. Put another way, the worry is that thuggish hip-hop culture and unsavory rappers are destroying SXSW's brand and reputation from within.
SXSW's whitebread performers during its popular music week segment attract a far different crowd than the fringe hip-hop shows: young yuppies and film people and hipsters, along with ordinary festival goers who are not generally the types to attend hip-hops shows where, as during one Austin act, a black rapper spews epithets such as "faggot," "bitch," and "nigga." How ironic that Austin's liberal ruling class tolerates this yet won't hesitate to ruin the careers of those who violate the rules of political correctness, as recently happened when they forced a city employee to resign after he had unveiled a politically incorrect map of Austin to liven up a dull meeting on zoning policies.
The top-rated commentator at an online news article about SXSW's two gun-related incidents remarked that "SXSW needs to do away with hip-hop/rap shows. They bring nothing but trouble." He added, "I was in a downtown steakhouse on Friday night and a group of ghetto idiots came in acting as if was a house party. They were cussing at staff, yelling, and playing rap music on their phones. This is not what SXSW is supposed to be."
On Monday, local news outlets were finally piecing together details of the most recent hip-hop mayhem. On Sunday at 1:30 a.m., during SXSW's final hours, shots were fired in the downtown area, spreading panic among the dense crowd. A YouTube video showed a volatile mob of hip-hoppers, some posturing menacingly toward one another. And then shots rang out, followed by screams as festival goers dropped to the ground or dashed for cover. Police quickly arrested two men: Rondarius Spicer, 21, and Justin Brunson, 20. A handgun was recovered.
The other gun-related incident occurred Friday night when hypervigilant police closed down a downtown concert hall where a black rapper named "2 Chainz" was performing. Police responded after a mob crashed the gates and because somebody reportedly brandished a gun at the overcrowded event. The incident happened during an upsurge of crime amid SXSW's music week, though it is unclear who is responsible for the crime wave. Perhaps political correctness prevents the police from saying.
"2 Chainz,” incidentally, has the usual rapper criminal history. When police in Oklahoma pulled over his tour bus for an inoperative taillight, they got a search warrant to search the bus after smelling marijuana and noticing wisps of smoke. Inside they found two semi-automatic pistols and a 12-gauge pump shotgun, along with some prescription painkillers and "marijuana residue."
What has been happening in recent years at SXSW's hip-hop shows has been a dirty little secret in politically correct Austin -- off-limits for public discussion until now.
SXSW's Worst Day
SXSW's worst day occurred three years ago when a crazed black rapper named Rashad Charjuan Owens drove his stolen car through police barricades while being chased by a patrol car, after bolting from a traffic stop. Owens, then 21, raced the wrong way down a one-way street at 12:30 a.m. and sideswiped cars, before crashing barricades blocking the street leading into the heart of Austin's trendy downtown entertainment district, where SXSW events were in full swing -- and thronged with festival goers. He killed four people and injured two dozen. Some witnesses said Owens seemed to aim his car at festival goers. Owens, whose stage name was KillingAllBeatz or K.A.B254, had been scheduled to give a performance in Austin that night. His rap sheet included drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident, and destruction of property.
That tragedy's bloody aftermath made international headlines, casting a pall over SXSW. At the time, some head-in-the-sand liberal pundits opined that Owen's vehicular atrocity had something to do with SXSW having gotten too big and commercial. PC denial surely animated such obtuseness: not daring to say that Owens himself was responsible -- and that his conduct perhaps had something to do with the thug rapper culture he embraced. When Owens got a life prison sentence, the left-leaning Austin American-Statesman, the city's daily paper, ran an editorial complaining that if Owens had been white, he would have gotten a lesser sentence.
Friday's incident at Austin Music Hall is reminiscent of another at SXSW involving a black rapper two years ago. Police arrested "Tyler, the Creator" (whose real name is Tyler Gregory Okonma) and charged him with inciting a riot. Tyler had been performing at a concert hall that had reached its maximum capacity, but then yelled at the crowd waiting outside to crash the gates. “All y’all outside the gates, y’all push through,” he shouted, police reported. As the crowd surged in, one employee was reportedly punched in the face.
One of Tyler's most notorious songs is titled "F-ck the Police," its lyrics including the lines: "Bitch, f-ck the police, muthaf-ck the police (Kill 'em all)." How ironic that politically correct Austin -- a hip and hi-tech mecca and college town of liberal politics -- tolerates such homophobia and misogyny. But of course exceptions can always be made for black rappers. It's part of the soft racism practiced by liberals – setting lower standards for blacks in respect to acceptable behavior and good taste. It's also a case of tolerating the intolerable, and in the case of SXSW even welcoming the intolerable. Conversely, Tyler's anti-cop rants are generally more tolerated in Austin.
Interestingly, surveillance of the riot Tyler instigated revealed that many of the gate-crushers were white, not black -- a phenomena that underscores that the appeal of thuggish rappers can cross color lines, drawing in riffraff and impressionable youth with bad taste of all colors.
SXSW's rising crime, to be sure, includes only crime that has generated a police report -- and which the news media reported. The actual crime and mayhem are no doubt far more widespread.
Will SXSW survive hip-hop culture? Only if hip-hop performances are barred from music week. But doing that would require SXSW's organizers and Austin's political elites to give up their cherished notions of political correctness -- and to admit that taking such drastic action would not make them racists.
Right about now, the private conversations between Austin's political elites and SXSW's organizers must be hilarious. The levels of cognitive dissonance must be truly epic.