Last night, I threw back some drinks and bounced some ideas around with Mane Rok. In addition to being the MC for Denver's ManeLine, Mane Rok is also one of the masterminds (and de facto reluctant leader) of L.I.F.E. Crew, a community of like-minded Denver hip-hop heads that includes Ichiban, the Pirate Signal, 3 the Hardway and more. He has been an active booster of the scene since his days at George Washington High, and has more than a few ideas about what's good -- and bad -- about hip-hop in Denver.
Our conversation, however, stretched far beyond the boundaries of any given musical genre. It wasn't long until the topic of cross-pollination -- a recurring theme in my recent conversations with Denver artists -- reared its head. Cross-pollination among musical genres (i.e., getting the hip-hop kids to rock shows and vice versa) is always an opportunity. However, cross-pollination among divergent art forms has even more exciting potential. Not only does it bring together different kinds of artists to increase creativity and collaboration, but it also brings together different kinds of art lovers who just might find something new that they never thought they'd like.
Buildling an audience or a fan base of followers is a challenge for any artist who wants to share his or her art with others. Many artists -- especially musicians -- focus on marketing as a way to help potential followers find them. This interruptive and somewhat passive approach works, of course, but we shouldn't lose sight of the opportunities to go out and actively find new followers.
One of the ways to do that is to go where you've never been before. If you're a metal band, for example, you can keep playing the same clubs where other metal bands play and metal fans congregate, but the opportunity is limited there. If, on the other hand, you play at the hip-hop club -- or even better -- play at an art opening, film screening or theatrical production, you open yourself up to a whole new potential audience. When I saw John Common and company play at the Wash Park Grille on Monday night, most of the folks in the restaurant weren't people who would normally go out of their way to catch live music. However, based on the buzz I heard at the bar, I wouldn't be surprised to find a few of them checking out Common's next gig. That's where it starts to get exciting.
Hip-hop has always been a place where different arts interact, from graffiti (visual arts) and breakdancing (movement arts) to deejaying and rapping (musical arts). The commodification of the last of these has somewhat distanced it from the other two, but together, they still represent the totality of hip-hop.
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Coming from this perspective, Mane Rok has some exciting ideas about how to bring different arts together. I think 2009 is the year for everyone in the Denver arts comunity -- visual artists, movement artists, theatrical artists, musical artists, writers, designers, comedians, clowns, jugglers and mimes -- to come up with ways to build bridges from one scene or community to another. Not only will it raise the bar for all of us, but it will also help us all reach the followers who don't even know they're waiting to be found.