Where Are the Long Beach Hip-Hop Acts in Long Beach’s Music Festivals?

The Natives
The Natives
Arthur Hitchcock

It’s going to be a big summer for music in Long Beach.

Two music festivals, Summer and Music, which unfolds over multiple events in the city throughout the summer starting on June 25th and going until September, and the recently announced Music Tastes Good Festival starting in late September, offer up an impressive list of both great local Long Beach, and even O.C., bands and artists, but a look at both festival line ups reveal a certain lack of local artists representing a style of music that the city of Long Beach is arguably most known for, hip-hop.

“There’s no one that represents the musical community that I am a part of, and I’ve had issues with that” says Senay Kenfe, a local Long Beach rapper and writer who works under the stage name Nativethoughts when he’s performing with his group The Natives.

“I just wish there was more of a discussion with artists when they organized these festivals”, he goes on to say “I mean, people feel slighted. Especially thinking about the cultural impact of this town musically, it’s almost unparalleled to a lot of places”

The most obvious example of Long Beach’s cultural impact is of course, the rapper Snoop Dogg, who along with fellow Long Beach natives Nate Dogg, Warren G, producer BattleCat, and the bands Dove Shack and Tha Dogg Pound, dominated the music charts in the early to mid 1990s with a laid back funky sound called G-Funk, which Dr. Dre used on his The Chronic album, which arguably was the album, and the sound, that launched hip hop into the mainstream.

“We produced one of the largest icons in hip-hop to this day, yet they’re saying rock is what we do? Nah”, says Rillo Wright, another local Long Beach hip hop artist. “You might listen to that in a few bars on First Street, or Broadway maybe, but people like hip-hop”, he goes on to say, “everybody likes hip-hop. I guarantee you, if you hop in anybodies car that lives in Long Beach, 75 percent of the time they’re listening to hip-hop.”

S.A.M. crowd in Downtown Long BeachEXPAND
S.A.M. crowd in Downtown Long Beach
Graham Lovelis

Josh Fischel, one of the curators of Music Tastes Good echoes Rillo’s comment, “We wanted Music Tastes Good to look and sound like Long Beach. If you drive down the street you’ll hear one person bumping Chance the Rapper, and another person bumping Hanni el Khatib, and we wanted to reflect that”, he says, “there’s a lot of good hip-hop acts here, and a lot more that I heard about after because I didn’t book them… That’s something we’re going to do more of next year. This is a learning process.”
An official representing the Summer and Music festival simply said that “Summer and Music is hearing that criticism [about its lack of hip hop] and we’re trying to adjust to it.”

But Kenfe argues that it’s not just about music, it’s about politics, real estate, and gentrification.

“Long Beach sees the way other cities around us like Santa Ana as models for ways to rebrand and revitalize past downtrodden neighborhoods, and music and art is being used to portray a ‘new Long Beach’, and rap music doesn’t play a part in that image, or as appealing way to show of real estate.”

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Both the Summer and Music festival, and the Music Tastes Good festival, take place in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, Music Tastes Good is scheduled to take place on Pine Street in downtown, and Summer and Music at both Pine Street and the 4th Street corridor, AKA Retro Row, where many young people are drawn to move because of a series of thrift and ‘vintage’ clothing shops, chic restaurants, and the Long Beach Art Theatre.

“It’s very interesting to me when the city [of Long Beach] chooses to work with black and brown people,” Kenfe says, “this is a huge multi ethnic community, and all these people bring so much flavor to the city. Like, my parents met at the Bob Marley Festival, and the city just up-ed their fees, after 25 years of the festival, something that brought people in, and made money, and now they do it in San Diego, and it brings in millions of dollars for the city of San Diego, and that could be going here. It makes me feel that my music is only relevant when it could be sold, or commodified to sell real estate downtown, outside of that, I feel like the city could care less. Like, what affect can I be heard? Through money or through my art? It’s obviously not my art.”

Rillo Wright puts it in a slightly different way, “They’re just making us feel like we’re not welcome in our own city… but, I love my city, and I ain’t gonna let them push me out. I’m trying to get to a position where my words have sway and power in this city. I love it out here.”


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