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Gentrification and hip hop in Denver

Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Though he’s been a musician for 17 years, Hooman Abbasi doesn’t look 32 years old. Tall and gangly with rosy cheeks and dressed in a loose shirt with the sleeves rolled back, he looks like a college intern for Pitchfork or some other music blog.

When Abbasi talks about music, which is almost always, his eyes light up as he gushes smitten like a teen girl clam- oring to meet her pop idol. Abbasi, who performs and releases under the name Homie Soul, is a hip hop fanatic and talented rapper who has lived in the Denver-metro area long enough to have observed some profound and not-so-profound changes in the local music scene.

“Last time I performed was about three or four months ago at the Black Roux,” Abbasi said.

Roux Black Consulting is a media organization run by Ru Johnson that showcases local hip hop artists bimonthly with the event series Test Kitchen here in Denver.

“I pretty much got booed off the stage. I took a risk on a dope song and they just weren’t feeling it,” Abbasi said. “I appreciate what they’re doing, bringing local acts on, I really do.” But according to Abbasi, the issue doesn’t lie with the shortage of local artists.

“There’s no heart or soul,” said an ashen-faced Abbasi, meaning new, original, and experimental acts don’t gain the recognition they deserve. Instead, they are tossed aside for acts that emulate what’s ‘hot’ in other, more established scenes like Los Angeles and Chicago.

“Aurora is more organic to Denver. It has a better vibe.” Abbasi said.
Many Denver natives have been pushed eastward as rent prices swell up due to the gentrification of once-affordable neighborhoods, meaning established art communities are
smothered and even at times, disrupted and disbanded completely. Denver has an abundance of clubs, yet these venues import artists so often that a local musical identity struggles to emerge.

According to Abbasi, Denver saw a huge jazz renaissance in the 80s and early 90s, but therein lies the problem: Denver has historically followed music trends gaining momentum in other cities without embracing the output of local artists. As a result, musical fixtures to the city’s soundscape like Abbasi are left feeling like they don’t fit in.

Gentrification brings more strain on the local art community, who now have more artists to compete against and more pressure to adhere to other sounds. With this influx comes a more urgent need to stick to the mainstream and a more cutthroat race in booking gigs.

Not only that, but out-of-staters are bringing in an ideal in which they are trying to recreate their hometown scenes rather than an embracing attitude of local acts.

Denver has plenty of creative musicians who break barriers in all realms; what the city truly lacks is enough openminded listeners.

“I’m a very proud Denver native. I am not proud of our music scene.”

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