Monday, 14 July 2008

An Interview With Wes Jackson, founder of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival

(Artwork by the insanely talented James Blagden)

Not very timely, as the festival is over now, but I published this at TSOYA the other day and I like to put up all my interviews on this site.

Wes Jackson is the founder of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, co-founder of Seven Heads Entertainment, and president of marketing firm The Room Service Group. He answered my questions via email about his motivation for creating the Festival and what he looks for in a performer, among other things.

Why did you start the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival?

WJ: I started the Festival for several reasons. One, I thought hip-hop should have a world class festival on par with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  An all day, outdoor representation of the city’s music, cuisine, culture and energy. 

Secondly, I wanted to create an event that would help reclaim the hip-hop brand from years of bad press, vultures and interlopers.  Hip-Hop needs to grow up and take itself seriously.  There teenage fans of hip-hop as well as 30, 40, and 50 year-old fans. Hip-Hop fans of all ages need quality music and events that appeal to where they are in life.

The Summer Jams take care of the teenagers. There is Rock The Bells who attacks this issue with a sledgehammer and a slightly alternative spin.  I wanted to create one for our demographic as well. Metropolitan, educated, slightly older, female, and racially/ethnically diverse.

What do you look for in a performer when you are assembling the lineup for the festival?

WJ: Someone with fundamental skills. More than this elusive ‘swagger’ that is so prevalent these days.  I am looking for someone who is pushing the art forward. I look for real content. Stage presence. When putting together the line-up, I look for a balance of old school and new school. Local acts and acts that rarely make it to Brooklyn. 

How do you balance the different tastes of long time Brooklynites and more recent arrivals?

WJ: It’s not that tough. I get Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One for the old heads. Lupe [Fiasco] and Mickey Factz for the gentrifiers. Is that a word?  At the end, both old and new Brooklynites appreciate quality and history.  We also price the event so that as many socio and economic groups can participate.  This brings the old and new communities together.

Have there ever been issues over which acts have been chosen?

WJ: Sure. Everyone has their favourites and I have the final say. Feathers get ruffled sometimes but we are all pros and sort it out.  The one who gets pissed is me when I let people talk me into acts I know don’t fit the brand.  I have learned to use my experience and lead without being despotic. My gut instincts on this are usually right. For the most part we all come to a consensus.

What was your initial goal in starting Seven Heads Entertainment?

WJ: My goal was to work with my friends and changed the world. Still is. [Laughs]

Back then I was enamoured with the idea of running a record label. I wanted to be Russell Simmons. After the returns started to mount, that dream ended. Fundamentally I just wanted to get my vision of hip-hop out there. I wanted to start my own business and realize my dreams.  We did some great things. Released some fantastic records. Saw the world. I hope to bring the brand back soon as a digital entity.

You can find out more about the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival at brooklynbodega.com.

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