The Aug. 24 benefit concert for Michael Brown’s family featured some of St. Louis’ best young hip hop talent. Organized by the S.L.U.M. Fest organizers and held at midtown club Plush, the public face of the concert focused on raising money for Michael Brown’s family. Yet event organizers wanted the event to be more than just a tool for gathering donations.
“You can enjoy yourself but also learn. Learn the differences. Learn the reasons why you used to be afraid of this person or this side of the tracks or whatever it may have been, and now you can be more comfortable,” said one event organizer Chedrick Kelly, known in hip-hop circles by the moniker Nato Caliph.
“You can relax and not be so on edge about life. Events like this are perfect for that 'cause everybody likes music,” he said.
The all-ages show, which started at 5 p.m., featured 14 acts. Many of the performers said they felt personally touched by the Ferguson tragedy.
“I saw Ruka Puff performing and he almost started crying. Just doing a song about someone who was killed for no reason,” said Scott Woods aka Lifestyle. Thirty-nine-year-old Lifestyle, as he prefers to be known, said the show gave attendees a moment to feel supported by their community.
“During crowd participation when we ask how many people have been harassed by the police and everybody’s hand goes up, that’s powerful,” he said of one moment. “It’s sad, but it’s a testament to the way things are unfortunately.”
One performer, Black Spade, born Veto Money, graduated from the same high school as Michael Brown. About his performance of the song “Let Live,” he said, “I was singing that song and thinking about what if Mike Brown had lived and gone to the EI Nelly Institute. He probably would have been in this circle, rhyming and stuff like that,” Spade said.
Noted performer Thi’sl, born Travis Tyler, knew Michael Brown Sr. before his son’s death. He says Michael Brown Sr.’s continued call for non-violence is characteristic of the slain teen’s father.
“A situation happened a few weeks before his son was killed that some guys were picking on him and they called his son out for a fight and he was pretty much like, ‘What’s fighting going to solve? There’s enough of that going around. Some stuff you’ve just got to let it go,’” said Thi’sl.
The benefit show hosted a mainly young crowd but included some families. Many performers said the night was a chance to highlight positive changes they hope to come from such intense local and national attention.
As Nato Caliph said, “The solution would be cultural sensitivity, that it would bring awareness to cultural sensitivity. You have a lot of different people from all walks of life, different ages different backgrounds, and sometimes the fear of the unknown is what puts us in a weird situation to where we start overstepping boundaries or we start disrespecting people even unknowingly.”
Other performers also expressed the hope Michael Brown’s death could put enough national pressure on issues of police brutality and racial profiling to affect long-lasting social change.