Beats N Bars Festival

The Beats N Bars Festival takes over downtown Durham again this weekend. And like downtown, they have come a long way.

Beats N Bars Festival

Growing up and Taking Over

by: Aaron Mandel

beats n bars

If you are one of the legions of people who moved to Durham in the last few years and are sick of hearing about “how it was” and “what you missed” –it is important to remember there are always two ways to look at it.

It used to go down like this...heads in room

It used to go down like this…heads in room

For as gritty, durty, and full of heart as Durham was “then” it is equally innovative, equally impressive, and frankly, more entertainment filled today.

Insider example: whatever magic 305 South Anti-Mall had then, Durham Fruit has already had far more moving, evocative events in mere months of existence, now. (1)

Bigger more, relevant example for this weekend: whatever cache and local vibe the DURM Hip Hop Summit and the Beats N Bars Festival used to have, they have captured it, moved it forward, and are about to transcend it this weekend.

Wade BeatBattle Casbah

There are more dope artists, more venues, more audience, more excitement, and more civic participation than ever previously.*

The Beats N Bars festival, like its precursor the DURM Hip Hop Summit, creates a Hip Hop platform and celebration based on the five pillars of Hip-Hop culture: DJ’ing, BBoy’ing, Graffiti’ing, MC’ing, and knowledge.

The Beats N Bars festival utilizes its excellent panels to educate the community (especially budding artists) and deepen audience participation.

In 2016, I was mesmerized and delighted by the “Business of Beatmaking” panel.  It was held in the underground Vault at the Palace International.

This year’s conferences are at American Tobacco. The kickoff party is on the rooftop of American Underground.

From the underground to the rooftop is more than symbolic for the Beats N Bars Festival.

What a Hip-Hop party on the American Underground roof looks by Headen Photography

What a hip party on the American Underground roof looks like…photo by Headen Photography

What does Jay-Z say?

“Momma, I made it.”

Maybe that isn’t quite yet the level of Hip-Hop culture in Durham, errr DURM, but when the headliner is Dead Prez, it is hard not to feel that way.

Dead Prez was a rite of passage in the early 2000’s. “Hip-Hop” was anthem of change, ala Buffalo Springfield’s “Stop Children What’s that Sound”. Dead Prez’s music and lyrics spoke to Generation X’ers who had lived in oblivious Clinton bliss bookended by Rodney King and 9/11. (2)(3)

Dead Prez knew shit was fucked up. So did we.

Their music is ever more relateable when ol’ King Donald is frolicking in the White House.

These guys are playing Durham? DURM? Headling the Beats N Bars festival? That which used to be the Hip Hop Summit?

How long ago was it we packed out Intrepid Life—now it’s a dentist’s office.

Does it matter?

The answer, if you are new, is a resounding, “No.”

Beats N Bars is going to drop knowledge, throw great parties, showcase Hip-Hop, host cypher and beat battles, and have a handful of up and comers like Young Bull and Danny Blaze drop straight fire.

Go see some shit, Durham/DURM. (Ticket link here.)

If you are in the industry or want to be, do not miss the 1.45pm industry panels on Saturday and Sunday. Information that you will spend years grinding on your own to learn is being shared by experts who have been there and done that.

Beats N Bars is living on the front lines, as is Durham.

Co-Founder John Lawrence aka the Real Laww told me that he is “feeling honored that the community has embraced what we’ve been doing.” He is “super happy, humbled and excited to see people excited and sharing Beats N Bars with their friends and family! It feels like our child is growing up.”

Lawrence also said he is, “hopeful the Triangle will be recognized for its brand of Hip-Hop [and that] even more Hip-Hop related events will come to the area.”


from Dead Prez's video for "Hip-Hop"

from Dead Prez’s video for “Hip-Hop”


1 We’d love to hear from someone who saw MacBeth at Durham Fruit.

* If the Cult of the More isn’t your thing, you should probably have left Durham already.

2 Dead Prez was talking about running up on them crackers in they City Halls long before Ferguson or any mob statue removal projects.

3 Dead Prez led me to Immortal Technique and rekindled my belief that Hip-Hop hadn’t been entirely captured by corporations.

Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

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