Jay-Z may have 99 problems, but the Oklahoma City rap scene has only one: fragmentation.
But that’s changing, as the metro’s diverse strands of hip-hop slowly unite into a community.
“We’ve identified 600 acts statewide,” said local rap promoter Marcus Hayes. “There’s a good culture and community that is growing.”
That group doesn’t just include black males, either; Hayes noted the growing prominence of female, Caucasian, Hispanic, American Indian and even Farsi rappers around town. The rise of women in the scene is especially encouraging to him.
We can’t do it on our own, without each other.
—Cliff Red Elk
“Men are coming out to the shows. It used to be when a woman was on the bill, it was crickets. There were all these women who weren’t getting heard,” Hayes said. “We have more females getting into it and getting into production and technical aspects, mixing and mastering. And that’s pretty exciting.”
Cliff Red Elk, who performs as the city-based Red Elk, has noticed the boom in American Indian hip-hop.
“When I first did it to now, I can’t even say how many hundreds of percent it’s increased,” Red Elk said. He’s also seen the change toward community. “It’s starting to be there, more there than it’s ever been. Top artists are starting to realize that we can’t do it on our own, without each other. A nation divided won’t conquer anything.”
Oklahoma City rapper Jabee, who has performed since 2000, feels the scene is growing.
“It’s the best I’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “People are listening, and a lot of good music is being made.”
But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Rap still isn’t as mainstream in OKC culture as its proponents would like.
“It is starting to get a little more accepted, with Bora Bora doing shows,” Red Elk said. “It would be great if there were a central venue in Bricktown that everyone worked to support, so that you could go to it each weekend and hear stuff.”
According to Hayes, another problem with the current state of rap isn’t specific to the capital city.
“Rock has more of a visual aspect,” Hayes said. “I’ve been trying to encourage artists to bring props and make it a theatrical atmosphere. There have been a couple artists that took that seriously. Hip-hop shows are missing that theater element.”
He mentioned recent events in the community, like Great Day in O’City and the Miss O’City hip-hop pageant, as evidence of the genre’s growth. But a ceiling still exists; while several artists have made some noise outside of the metro, none have become nationally renowned.
“We’ve had some success, but we haven’t had that breakout pop-culture phenomenon,” Hayes said.
Added Jabee, “It takes a lot for people to smash out.”
But with a large amount of acts, a growing number of venues and increasing support for rap in Oklahoma City, that may happen sooner than later.