Ways and means: Inclusive hip-hop makes it to the stage at Nine Pillars festival

Local R&B singer Torele will perform at Rugged Arts x Nine Pillars All-LGBTQ+ Edition on Tuesday. Photo by Eze Amos Local R&B singer Torele will perform at Rugged Arts x Nine Pillars All-LGBTQ+ Edition on Tuesday. Photo by Eze Amos

Hosting an all-LGBTQ+ hip-hop showcase has been on Remy St. Clair’s mind for a while now.

Over the past few years, while performing at various regional Pride events as rap duo Sons of Ichibei, St. Clair and Cullen “Fellowman” Wade kept hearing similar refrains from artists on these Pride bills:

“We’d love to…but we don’t have the means.”

“I’d love to…but there aren’t enough open artists in my city.”

And, perhaps most devastating, “it’d be great, but this kind of event wouldn’t be welcome in my city.”

It didn’t take long for St. Clair and Wade, who, along with a few other folks in town, book and run the Rugged Arts hip-hop showcase and the annual Nine Pillars Hiphop Cultural Fest (now in its third year), to realize that they have the means, enough open artists, and community support to put on this kind of showcase. On Tuesday night at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, Charlottesville’s first-ever all-LGBTQ+ hip-hop showcase will feature performances by Noah Page, Shamika Shardé, Torele, dogfuck, Sadeé, and DJ Angel Flowers.

This is the second year in a row that Nine Pillars and Rugged Arts have combined forces to break new ground in Charlottesville hip-hop: Last year, they hosted the city’s first-ever all-female hip-hop bill at the Music Resource Center. Artists everywhere are denied access to the stage or the recording booth because of their gender identity and sexuality, says St. Clair, “and that’s not fair.” In his opinion, it’s talent, the quality of the music, and the messages contained therein that matters. “We really want to be innovative and give those performers and those artists who are overshadowed,” or flat-out denied, the chance to perform, says St. Clair. “We want every artist to be empowered. And we want the community to take note.”

Rugged Arts has hosted regular hip-hop showcases in Charlottesville for nearly a decade now, and in that time, plenty of openly LGBTQ+ artists—including St. Clair, who hosts the showcase—have performed on the Rugged Arts stage. Torele, a local R&B singer on Tuesday night’s bill, is one of those artists. St. Clair saw Torele (who formerly performed as Not3s) at a Verbs & Vibes open mic a few years back and immediately invited him to the Rugged Arts stage. “It became like an addiction for me,” says Torele of the showcases. “I wanted to do it more and more. As an openly gay R&B artist, it was so nice to feel welcome, to have that space,” he says.

Not everyone is so welcoming. Torele says a few artists won’t work with him because of his sexuality, artists who “hold the stigma that it’s going to harsh their image if they work with someone in the LGBTQ+ community.” He wishes that weren’t the case, but his response is to “wish them the best and continue to do my own thing.” Prejudice against LGBTQ+ folks exist in our society, and so, by default, it exists in hip-hop. Artists like the ones on this bill, along with allies, are working to break it down and do away with it altogether.

Phil Green, a rapper who grew up in Charlottesville, now resides in Richmond, and performs under the moniker dogfuck, cites Richmond’s Ice Cream Social queer dance party as just one example. Ice Cream Social’s been going for about two years now (DJ Angel Flowers is a co-founder), and Green takes it as a sign that local music scenes are becoming more inclusive, even if that growth is incremental. The LGBTQ+ showcase indicates “that the [Charlottesville hip-hop] scene has finally sanctioned queer spaces,” says Green. What’s more, Green adds, it declares to artists and to the entire city, “hey, we want queer artists here. We want them to be seen and heard.” It’s an imperative message to put out there, says Green, who has a little something to add to it: “Respect queer artists, because it turns out, your heroes just might be them.”

Shamika Shardé will make her Rugged Arts debut in this particular showcase. Rapping has been a hobby of hers since she saw the legendary Lauryn Hill perform in Sister Act 2, but she’d never spit rhymes anywhere but her bedroom.

“I knew what I had to say was different from the rest,” says Shardé, and her music reflects that. Because of this, DJ SG and DJ Double U encouraged her to put her music out there, to share her talent and perspective with others. “I was told I have a talent, don’t waste it,” she says. And now that she knows she has a platform, she plans to make the most of it.


Make the most of Nine Pillars

Here’s what not to miss during the Nine Pillars Hiphop Cultural Fest:

Monday, April 22

CVille Freshman Class Youth Rap & Dance Competition

5pm, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, 233 Fourth St. NW

Tuesday, April 23

Rugged Arts x Nine Pillars
All-LGBTQ+ Edition

8pm, Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, 414 E. Main St.
Downtown Mall

Wednesday, April 24

Sally’s Kids Vol. 2:
An Oral History of
Charlottesville Hip-hop

Time TBD, WTJU 91.1 FM Studios, 2244 Ivy Rd.

Friday, April 26

Make the Cut DJ Battle

8pm, Music Resource Center, 105 Ridge St.

Saturday, April 27

Wargames Rap Battle

7pm, Champion Brewing Co., 324 Sixth St. SE

Sunday, April 28

Nine Pillars Annual Block Party

3pm, Champion Brewing Co., 324 Sixth St. SE