Durham festival celebrates hip hop this weekend

By Hadassah Patterson

DURHAM, N.C. — The Bull City will celebrate everything hip hop this weekend during the Beats ‘n Bars Festival.

The event, which runs Friday and Saturday, is the brainchild of Crystal E. Taylor and Johnathan Harmon, aka The Real Laww. Taylor helps power the Underground Collective, which provides platforms for hip hop culture throughout the Raleigh and Durham community, and presented the first Beats 'n Bars Festival last year. Harmon and Toon Rice, aka Professor Toon, co-founded the DURM Hip Hop Summit. Rounding out the Beats 'n Bars crew is Kyesha Jennings, a business partner and the director of the conference portion of the festival.

The festival is truly a joint collaboration between Taylor and Harmon. Taylor was already concerned with creating a larger platform for North Carolina music and hip hop in the area, creating varied spaces and events with the Underground Collective from beat battles and cypher to producer and panelist conferences, about seven different entities within the genre of hip hop entertainment and education. Harmon had been working with festivals in the area for five years.

“Creating Beats 'n Bars from that platform, culminating all of that what she was already doing just made perfect sense for it to happen," Harmon said. "I, along with Toon with the Summit, just focused on the one weekend and then focused on our careers as far as rap goes. That was it."

Harmon said he reached out to see how he could get involved with and help build the Beats 'n Bars Festival. "It's just dope," he said of the event.

They had a meeting at local Tops China and talked about what they wanted to see for the local artists they knew, the music scene in the community and the festival.

“We wanted to be a North Carolina component. Not just Durham, but that’s where it’s going to start. I think that people will see the ability to be able to bridge. You know, you don't have to be segregated and split up. Raleigh and Durham don’t have to be two separate things, it can be everybody together," Taylor said. "Educating people on that is what hip hop culture is about."

The festival features an extensive lineup of more than 30 artists including Cyhi the Prince, Nick Grant, Nitty Scott, OC from NC, G Yamazawa, The Real Laww and Kaze at The Pinhook and American Underground. Curating a lineup for an event like this can have its own challenges.

“We literally talked about what we wanted to see for people who we knew were artists, who were our friends and people that we were fans of. We wanted everybody to win, and providing that platform for them was just the ultimate goal," said Taylor. "Because even though we have three major corporate sponsors, the majority of the community has supported this festival."

Many artists are competitive and singularly-focused on building their brands, but this festival is focused on collaborations. "It ties back to people being able to see that you can be collaborative with people who are maybe your competition, or maybe not your competition, but still can be collaborative and partner with them in a very strategically, healthy way that builds community once again around hip hop music," she said.

Harmon stressed that collaboration is key.

"It’s going to take a team of like-minded folks to put a whole city on the map. You just can’t bear that weight by yourself," Harmon said. "That’s why you put the egos to the side and you’re just like, ‘Well, we’re just going to join forces and make something great for as many people who would like to see it as great as we would like to see it.’”

Nick Grant and G Yamazawa were featured in previous festival lineups and have since taken off, signed with major labels, or begun garnering national acclaim.

“When curating something, (it was important to) keep it in North Carolina and focus our attention on those...on the people who are, you know, working hard and are going to help the city and the state be better and grow," Harmon said. "G is probably like one of the best examples right now from what he went from in the poetry game now into hip hop into the field.”

The festival's conference component features info to help artists grow and includes representatives from Vibe, BET Music Moguls, Good Music and Blackspace at American Underground.

"That's probably one of my favorite parts of the festival, the conference part, because people get to be educated," Taylor said. "Because a lot of times people don't have the resources. They don’t know information. They don’t know where to go look for it either."

It's all about helping artists and the community grow. "We just want to push people to be better. My ultimate goal in life is challenge a person to want to do something. Charge you with wanting to do something and be greater than you were before," Taylor said.

The two have big plans for the festival's future, with a possible film fest component in the future.

"The best advice we got was from Michael Goodmon, Capitol Broadcasting Company's Vice President of Real Estate. It was just grow slow and grow organic," Harmon said. "You have to make sure that you’re growing at a healthy pace that doesn’t look like you’re overdoing it."