As a hip-hop artist growing up on Richmond’s Southside listening to hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and jazz, I was not a fan of hardcore music. I would get exposed to alternative rock, punk, and hardcore mostly from my white friends and MTV. I couldn’t understand the ear-splitting instrumentation and random screaming for three to four minutes per song.
Which is ironic, since that’s the same thing my grandmother would say about rap music. I didn’t understand the headbanging and fisty mosh pits — or the black eyes, cuts and bruises, broken bones, the sweat and bloody t-shirts. What I did understand was that there were millions of people who loved this music, and it meant a whole lot to them, just as hip-hop meant for us.
Earlier this year, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to learn more about hardcore music. So I started listening to a few bands like Show Me The Body, The Acacia Strain, and Division of Mind, and attending shows at Strange Matter. I needed to get a feel for what I was missing out on in Richmond’s legendary hardcore scene.
To our surprise, Egger and a few of his friends felt the same way about hip-hop and wanted to explore the idea of working together. When this eventually happened, we found ourselves touring alongside hardcore and noise acts. Headed to Baltimore on the first leg of the tour with Nickelus F and Lil Ugly Mane, we didn’t know what to expect or how things with a mixed crowd would go in a city we’ve never played.
Sitting in the green room before the show started, energy filled the room. And when the moshing started and the crowd got pumped, I got nervous. How would they react when Nick and I hit the stage? Would they give us the same energy? Does this crowd love hip-hop?
When we took the stage, the crowd went stupid, and it was obvious that they loved the rap sets just as much as the hardcore sets. Hitting me all at once, I realized the crowd wasn’t there for one genre over the other, they were there because they were feeding both sides of their souls; the intersection of rage and rhythm. Seeing this from the stage put me at the edge of this new world, which we were literally jumping into.
Unwinding from the performance, I realized that mixing hardcore and hip-hop was absolutely perfect. I started to see this at shows in Philly, VA Beach, and Raleigh — all sold-out shows. But as I watched opening bands from Richmond, like Division of Mind and other legends like Tarpit, Dry Spell, and Victim, I paid more attention to the lyrics; their content was parked on the same lane as hip-hop’s. They spoke about similar environments, social issues, government, peace, equality, and of course a little death. What’s a hardcore show or hip-hop show without that?
As both genres represent versions of the same thing, the next question then became: Why hasn’t this fusion already happened in Richmond? Historically we’ve seen this before with RUN DMC, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Linkin Park, and even Aerosmith. Even now, we can all run a few Rage Against The Machine albums back.
With everything going on in Richmond — monuments, evictions, and gentrification splitting the fabric of our city — this thread of hip-hop and hardcore is one thing actually bringing us closer together. Vinyl Conflict’s annual show in August proved this. The union of hip-hop and hardcore was on full display with acts like Nickelus F, Nosebleed, Slump, Deviant, and Sinister Purpose playing for a fully engaged crowd. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself, never imagining that this would actually work in a city divided like Richmond. There was a time when hip-hop artists fought to find any stage in the city to perform.
Thankfully, those days are over as we multiply these experiences with more shows, tours, and cross-promotionals. Yet we still have our divides.
Anyone who grew up in this city knows things are slow to change. Even now as “Richmond” tries to rebrand itself “RVA,” we still have to fight to continue the conversation over things like removing racist monuments from our field of dreams. We still have to fight eviction rates that are at a national high, displacing and dividing families. We still have to fight for police reform, so a black man like Marcus Peters can receive help for his mental illness instead of a few fatal bullets. With all of these challenges and divisions in the city, at least Richmond’s hip-hop and hardcore scenes are intersecting and bringing people and cultures together in new and powerful ways.
*Cover photo by Landon Shroder