On March 1 of this year, around 300 people came out to The Firmament venue in Greenville to enjoy an evening of performances by local and regional hip-hop artists. The event was called Culture Fresh Friday, and it was the third in a series of shows created by Upstate rapper, songwriter and producer Hakeem Bradley, under the banner of his all-in-one entertainment company, Culture Shift.
These shows are important for a couple of reasons. First off, all hip-hop/R&B shows in the Upstate, especially shows in mid-sized venues featuring local talent, are few and far between, Secondly, these events proved that there is enough of an audience for these performers to justify booking them. The Culture Fresh Friday series might help to finally establish that local hip-hop is emerging to take its place alongside other genres.
Bradley, who performs under the name Khemo, has always been a wordsmith; he started out writing poetry. Since he loved music as well, picking up a microphone and expressing himself over tracks that he produced didn’t seem that much of a stretch. But from the start, Bradley had a couple of larger goals in mind than just being a performer.
“I wanted to give hip-hop a platform where it would be recognized,” he says, “and I knew that the best way to have a platform would be to create it.”
That platform would take shape with Culture Shift Entertainment, a one-stop record label, event production company, PR and management effort that encompasses everything for making albums to shooting videos to advertising and putting on shows.
“We pretty much keep everything in house,” Bradley says. “It’s not just making music; that’s why it’s not called ‘Culture Shift Records.’ it’s a very broad spectrum.”
The term “Culture Shift” is important because Bradley wants to do just that; change the culture on a couple of levels. The main goal is to bring more regional hip-hop and R&B music to people’s attention. Bradley says there has long been a disconnect between hip-hop’s general national popularity and its visibility in the Upstate.
“I know that hip-hop is the number one type of music in the world,” Bradley says, “and I know it’s here, too. There’s a lot of it. I’ve seen a lot of it around here.”
But Culture Shift also refers to the content of the label’s music. The artists involved with Bradley’s endeavor typically have a positive message, whether that’s through thoughtful lyrics or infectiously danceable music.
“We feel like we’re trying to bring the music back to its roots,” Bradley says. “We’re spreading love, spreading peace and spreading knowledge. A lot of hip-hop now has a more negative message, like slandering women, for example. At least that’s what you hear on mainstream radio. That’s what kids hear every day, riding around in the car; not positive uplifting songs that can give you knowledge, and bring people together, but music with a negative message. And that’s not where hip hop derives from. We’re trying to shift it back to the positive message and bring people together.”
Bradley is quick to add that Culture Shift’s shows are not about preaching to the audience; the music itself is fun.
“There are some artists I like where they’re not rapping about anything that’s teaching, it just makes me feel good,” he says. “If I want to go party, I want to find some music that makes me want to go party.”
Bradley hopes to offer up both great music and great messages at Culture Fresh Friday 4 at The Firmament this Friday night. The show will include performances by Bradley himself, Culture Shift artists J$N and BicFlicka, and a host of regional talent including Frost, Sole East, State Of Mind and more.
Another 300-strong audience would be great, but just like with his label, Bradley says he has larger goals for the show.
“I think sometimes people have a negative outlook on hip hop,” he says. “They think shows are dangerous. But we’re trying to create something to let people know that we can draw a crowd, AND this crowd can have a good time, AND this crowd won’t have any altercations. It’s a safe environment, an that’s the messages we want to put out. As long as everybody has a good time, I don’t care if there are 10 people or 10,000.”
What: Culture Fresh Friday 4, featuring Khemo, Sole East, Sun Rhe, Frost, AEO, BicFlicka, J$N, Wordplay Luck, Kaye Kaye & State Of Mind, w/ DJ Eislit and DJ Kurious George
Where: The Firmament, 5 Market Point Dr., Greenville
When: Friday, June 14th, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $15 adv., $20 dos.
Info: 864-616-5101, http://www.firmamentgvl.com