Arts Desk

Head-Roc’s Mouth: How Much Did That Benefit You Played Really Help Haiti?


An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.

A question for all my Chocolate City indie artists:

When "so and so," "this place and that place," and "whodie who" asked you to come out to perform your craft or display your wares for sale at their benefits for Haiti, were you compensated for your time, energy, creativity, and resource expenditures?

“Of course not Head-Roc!” you say. “It was a benefit for the People of Haiti following the massive earthquake, for Pete’s sake! Dude!!”

OK. You’re right. I’m sorry for asking so directly. What I want to more skillfully ask is this…

When you came out and rocked your sets for zero comp, I mean, donated your entire performance, did the venue donate their entire night's receipts to whatever charitable organization, as well? Do you know if they did? Did you think to ask? And more importantly, do you care? [At least one benefit, last month's DMV Supports Haiti concert at the 9:30 Club, did give all receipts to charity—ed.]

And I’m not asking the hobbyist musicians, the open mic’ers, and karaoke professionals. I’m not asking you—if you love your 9-to-5, 401(k), and retirement benefits, then hey, you probably can afford to come out and rock for free, right?  (Yes, it’s a trick question.)

I’m asking the ones whose names have been well-known throughout the city over the years—my contemporaries in all forms and genres of the D.C.-area indie arts scene. I’m asking the cats whose mission it is to create and perform their original music full time. I’m asking because, well… you’ve put in massive work, having withstood the tests of time to establish yourselves as bona fide musicians. Your music is solid. Your act is polished. Your peers acknowledge you as a pro, and you’ve got diehard supporters that will show up for you when you “work.” Yes, I said “work.” Playing professional music at any venue is actually “work,” you know.

So, when venues advertise benefit shows where they are “donating all proceeds to [insert charity here]” and have known professionals playing for free, are they donating the night’s bar and food receipts? Their staff's wages? Payouts? Their sound guy's pay? My point being: Are they donating their “work” as well? Or are these venues actually profiting from the “work” of others (musicians, promoters, family, and supporters) donating time and efforts organizing people to attend the functions they “host?"

I think these are fair questions to ask. The music scene in Chocolate City is supersaturated with predators dining nicely off the career aspirations of indie musicians working and investing toward sustainable careers. Many venues and promoters take advantage of musicians looking for a bigger, better, or—my favorite—the “right” opportunity, so that they can play later at a high-profile event. The problem is that overwhelmingly and all too often, it simply does not go down that way—for some people. Yes, dig that!

Consider this the first in a series of tangential thoughts on the phenomenon of incredibly talented Chocolate City musicians not being able to “break” based on the merits of the music we create. Ya’ll hold on tight now… it’s going to be a bumpy ride! You might ruffle some feathers and maybe even lose a few friends (like I have) going down this rabbit hole, but please… holla black with your thoughts!

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  • pakui

    very true man. you always say the truth.

  • Petey Green

    I personally did not perform at any of the "Save Haiti" charity events we had going on in the area. Not because of any political reasons, just because I had prior engagements that I needed to attend. However, it is a very interesting point you have brought up. Too many "promoters" and business owners these days really have been capitalizing off of the saturation of new rappers and artists in our area.I wouldn't be surprised if many of the charity events were nothing more than another way to get some extra "donations" in the pockets of those who set up the shows.

  • maceo

    you know the answer, right? you are on the wrong side of the business model. like you said - the market is saturated with musicians. places to perform is the the unique product. doesn't make it "right" or "fair", but that is the business. With that said that doesn't mean an owner can't say hey waiters, barbacks, sound guy - i'm donating your wages tonight to charity... but that may not be what they signed up for. I know at marvin, sheldon scott was doing a monthly event where he was donating all his tips. but, i think that was totally his doing and came out of his pocket. interesting questions you ask and glad to see you back in black and white on the regular.

  • Isis360

    Hahaha... Great questions asked... the crazy thing is are folks really that naive??? So many scammers running the same ookie doke....but I am proud and happy you have a no holds barred attitude towards seeking out the scam artist club owners and promoters who's bottom line, is their bottom line.....

  • J Kanizzle

    How do you MAKE someone play for free?

    This is a great article, read a couple of the other ones also...MuStock and the one about rappin' with Tyrone at PJ's. Very well done, mucho bueno Head-Roc, thanx for turning me onto it.

    They all kind of dealt with a similar theme when it came to venues/promoters/who's making the scrilla/how do the indie artists truly shine. All subjects that resonate deeply.

    I must say though, imho, that if a local act CHOOSES to accept a no or low paying opening gig for a national act for the sake of their own personal marketing/resume/1-sheeter/networking agenda's, then that's their willing decision. If they do it because they want to help 'those in need', whoever that may be....once again, there own one's making them do it.

    If that same local act is approached, KNOWS they can bring people to the door, and yet STILL is cool with not getting paid when there's other folks takin' home dough....shame on them. You are completely correct, venues are still taking in money from these gigs...of course they are! They have rent to pay, electricity to keep on, and staff payroll. You've gotta be stupid to not realize that.

    This is one of the reasons I admire and respect Ty (Rosetta Stoned) so much, he's really taking the promoting aspect into his own hands, usurping the status quo when it comes to venues in town, and understands innately something I've been preaching for a long ain't about the music, it's about the EXPERIENCE! This is one of the reasons I'm WAY more involved with the Burning Man crowd these days than the hip hop crowd...much of the hip hop crowd thought they could still get by doing a 'show'....nah man, you gotta do a frickin' carnival!

    I was guesting on Subsoniq on XM about a year ago, and went on this long diatribe about how hip hop became stale (generalizing here for the sake of journalism, of course) because it had stopped letting in outside influences....rappers were sayin' the same ish they were 10 years ago and all the beats sounded like ATCQ. Everybody got too caught up with what hip hop 'WAS' then where hip hop could go. Hip hop was born of outside influences...birthed if you will from an amalgamation of influences and ideas, and the second you stop letting them in and become stagnant. So I moved on to a world that promoted and nurtured creativity and unique community building 'experiences'. And, at the same time, found ways to make money in it...because, as we all know...C.R.E.A.M.

    My goal....merging the more progressive and intelligent folks (artists and fans) of the hip hop community into the Burner's a match made in heaven. Well...I'm a Jew...we don't really believe in heaven per se...but I digress.

    Keep on doin' it King, thanks for the insights!

  • Brotha ,Please!!!?

    Funny, I saw you perform at a benefit last year, all you did was bitch about how you did not get the respect you deservein the city, how you been rockin for x years, blah, blah, blah...
    Thank God the other acts were actually focaused on the reason people came out.