“You have all these great local artists, and it’s all about, How do I get in the middle of that?”
“It all comes from a conversation with a Somerville firefighter six years ago.”
I asked concert organizer Yvette Wilks to break down the Genesis story behind the Evolution of Hip-Hop Festival, which will take place on Saturday for the seventh time in that many years.
“Mike and I were parents and we wanted to be able to enjoy hip-hop music with our kids. But you can’t just go to a hip-hop concert with your kids. We wanted to create a space where everybody could come and listen.”
Wilks was surprised to find willing partners from the get-go.
“Back then, the first thing was to reach out to the Somerville Arts Council,” she recalled. “There’s a stigma against hip-hop, but Greg Jenkins said, ‘Ok, let’s do it.” So for the last six years, he’s allowed us to bring it to the parking lot right in Union Square.”
The result has been an annual event that is a destination for some, but that also serves as a community meeting point for passersby as well. All are welcome, and there is no cover charge.
“One year,” Wilks said, “we had someone who was listening on the bus and they got off to join us.”
Wilks said the highlight of her experience on the organizing side is collaborating with the show producers. Together, they have brought out Mass stars including Brandie Blaze and Oompa in recent years. This time, in addition to local talent, New York Juice Crew legend Craig G will touch the stage.
“I look for artists who are able to come and perform without any swear words,” Wilks said. “Artists like Brandie Blaze saw the challenge and did it.”
“I engage with the producers to create their vision,” Wilks added. “I collaborate with them, we work to bring their concepts together.”
Among those who Wilks credits as a mentor in the process is Hub rapper Pretty Poison: “She’s been in the industry for a long time, and when I met her there was a great connection.”
The team even endured through COVID, with Wilks “reaching out to a number of artists to create four hours of video.” Now, “coming back into this world [of live performances],” she said, “I want to be more hands on with the artists. I want to make it more like a cohort instead of just a one day thing.”
“You have all these great local artists, and it’s all about, How do I get in the middle of that?” Wilks said. “One of the big things I have learned is that I need to start earlier and hold monthly sessions where we interact with people.”
“After new local artists perform on our stage, I want them to fly.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.