Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia. They’re not just three major metropolises in the US, they’re three of the ten most segregated cities in the country. When Jus Rhyme and Toussaint Morrison saw the full list they came up with a plan – embark on a tour of all ten cities and create a discussion about the forces that are creating this segregation. Jus points to some startling statistics on the subject, noting “one in six people in the US are impoverished right now. That’s more people than in the 1950s. US schools are more segregated by race than in 1950. Do you know how we deal with that? This is how we decided to deal with it, not more schools, not more houses, more prisons. One out of every 100 people in the US are in prison or jail. We incarcerate more people than any country in the whole world. If you include people on parole three out of every 100 people in the US are under the criminal justice system. Toussaint and I think we can do better and we want to see people come together and let’s change this.”
The Segregated City Tour is their opening salvo in this battle to make things better and this week RapReviews caught up with both Jus Rhyme, who some may remember from his time on VH1’s The White Rapper Show, and Toussaint Morrison, to find out more about the tour, the kind of social action they’re hoping to spark, and why they’re only asking for half of what they need with their Kickstarter campaign.
Adam Bernard: First off, how did you two come together? I know you’re both from Minnesota, but Jus has been an LA resident for a decade now.
Toussaint Morrison: I was doing a show, the Lake Harriet Band Show, in south Minneapolis, and Jus approached me and he was very intense and had a very stern fire in his eyes and was like “we should connect, we should do shows, we should do all these things for social justice,” and I was really taken off kilter. He gave me his number and I was like yeah, sure, I’ll call you.
Jus Rhyme: This was like ten years ago.
TM: I called him, or he called me, we bumped into each other after the after show in Dinkytown at the late, great, Bon Appetit, which was a big mecca for hip-hop in Minneapolis. From then on we connected on shows. Jus hired my band, The Blend, a live hip-hop band, to do shows the last Friday of every month. It started from there.
AB: So this tour is ten years in the making.
JR: I guess you could say that, yeah.
TM: You totally can, yeah.
JR: More recently, Toussaint has been lighting up the Midwest. He’s played nationally, but has a huge following and regularly tours, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota. We were having a conversation one day, he was saying he plays in Milwaukee a lot, that’s actually our second stop on the tour, and he said did you know Milwaukee is the #1 most segregated city in the US? I was like damn, really? Milwaukee? It got me curious and I Googled it because the census data just came out and this incredible writer who writes for Salon.com and The Guardian in London, Daniel Denvir, wrote this piece about the ten most segregated urban areas in America. You can see it on our tour page. I pitched it to Toussaint like yo, let’s do this, let’s tour all the cities, let’s talk about race and class, let’s rap, let’s make films, let’s really bring this into hip-hop culture, and vice versa.
AB: What about those articles lit a fire under you?
JR: For me it was just astounding. Just the term segregation, or segregated, I think people think that’s the 1950s, or before, and I don’t think a lot of people realize, and I certainly didn’t, how separated Americans still are across race and class and it really is tearing our communities apart. I think hip-hop is trying to do something different, but even at hip-hop shows people across race and class, we all go home to our different communities that are resourced differently, and that are policed differently, so I think we just really want to bring that to light. Toussaint, since you brought up the Milwaukee thing, how did you find out about that?
TM: I tour with a theatre company called GTC Dramatic Dialogues and every August and September we go to freshman orientations around the country and we hold interactive theatre on race, gender, sexuality, substance abuse and sexual assault. We have the actors do a scene, an argument breaks out, and then a moderator steps in and holds a conversation between the actors in character and the audience. It basically turns into Sally Jesse Raphael. It just blows out of control. I’ve been with this theatre company for eight years and this past year I was bumped up to moderator and just engaging with that and talking with people… there was one college out in Milwaukee, when I said “we’re in the most segregated city in the country, how do you feel about that?” There was just silence. Nobody wanted to say anything. It sparked devastation, but also motivation to bring up the conversation and get the ball rolling on it, get people talking about it.
TM: I also had a show in Milwaukee, this was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back, I was releasing a mixtape and I booked a show at the club and I wanted to hire these DJs and the owner was like I need to hear these DJs before you let em on. He heard em and then he was like “what styles do they do?” I was like you just heard em, what do you need to know? He said “we don’t have a license to do hip-hop in this club.” I was like what do you mean by that? I talked to a DJ named Kid Cut Up and he was like if you play on Brady Street or UW-Milwaukee they don’t appreciate music that is going to attract black patrons. Kid Cut Up is a white dude and he’s amazing, he has this huge pull, opens for Wiz Khalifa and all this other good shit, but he laid it out flat, you’re in a city where that’s not allowed and the alderman of certain neighborhoods make it legal that your club has to a sign a paper on what music it’s going to be licensed to play, and hip-hop generally wasn’t one of them.
JR: The summer I left Minneapolis for LA they closed three hip-hop clubs for similar reasons. I feel like venue owners think hip-hop is dangers. We’re saying segregation is dangerous. Segregation is deadly. I want to be clear that this tour is about what divides us, yes, but it’s also about what brings us together, or what CAN bring us together, and music can do that. Toussaint and my own relationship is across race, across class. I’m a country boy, he grew up in the city. I think we’re a microcosm, our relationship musically and professionally, of what relationships can be and what communities can be like, so for us we’re trying to positively challenge. Let’s do things differently. Let’s have house parties where everyone’s invited because this exclusive stuff, exclusive genre, exclusive policing, exclusive funding for public schools, that’s a bunch of BS and it’s actually hurting everybody.
AB: Seeing the cities that make up the tour, what does it tell you about racism, especially overt versus hidden racism?
TM: I would say it is overt. In places I’ve traveled to in New York, Cleveland, Milwaukee, LA, it’s clear, this neighborhood has a populous of this kind of people that look this way, that neighborhood has that. Covert type of shit that really gets under my skin is the type of shit in Minneapolis where it’s diverse for a novelty.
JR: Which is #60 on the list, just for the record.
TM: When it comes down to it it’s not necessarily about “these cities are in the top ten for the most problematic.” It’s not that at all. It’s not prescribing tolerance or demanding something here. It’s basically solidifying that there is a divide and you can either turn your head to it or generate a discussion about it. Our agenda is to generate a discussion. Whether people disagree, or agree, it’s to generate a discussion and have a goal in mind of the direction of where we want to take it, but the first step is getting the discussion started and getting your foot into workshops and sparking that up and then having people turn that mirror towards themselves.
JR: I totally agree and I would just say, too, I liked what Toussaint said about how it’s not about these cities in particular. These are symbols of a larger issue in the US and you could even say that the most segregated city in America is actually our minds. It’s not in any one place, we carry it with us. We live in our own minds, the segregated city. We’re there to generate discussion and potentially action on some of this stuff.
AB: You have turned to Kickstarter.com to raise money for this tour. Why are you only looking for $1,000 when even your best case scenario budget is twice that?
JR: We gotta come up with something. We can’t just tell the people they gotta fork over money and we can’t do anything. We’re saying yo, match us. We’ll put up a thousand and the people put up a thousand. For me it’s like, this is a people’s issue, this is an issue people live in, we live in racially and class divided communities so we want people to have an investment in having a conversation. We want to see who’s down to have the conversation, who’s down to bring us to the city. We’re down to put up the money regardless. We’re gonna be in the cities, it’s gonna happen, but we want to see who’s invested, who’s gonna be there, who says I have a stake in this. You can vote with your dollars, that’s what people say, so that’s why we’re reaching out.
TM: I can get to NY and back on $400, personally, for me, and I travel with dirty, skanky bands and short busses and nasty vans and shit like that. Yeah, $2,000 would be great, but between Jus and I, to be quite honest, our fan base is not huge. We don’t have a lot of major label support. I’ve never really gotten a hand out, or a call, or a look from any other label in Minneapolis (Toussaint’s band, The Blend, is on Urban Home Companion), that’s just never happened. I really took inspiration from Macklemore who raised like $15,000 to do a music video, which was really cool, but our fan base, it’s start humble and work from there.
JR: At the end of the day, for me, it’s about the people. Fuck the industry, and I’m not just saying the music industry, but the school industry. We have a song called “Fuck School” about how schools are segregated in the US, more segregated than the 1950s. Fuck the military. Not fuck the soldiers that are serving, but fuck the countries that put our sons and daughters at war. Fuck the education system that doesn’t want to teach students real history. Fuck slumlords and rental properties. I put, personally, my faith in the people, that’s why community organizations and economic and racial justice orgs are gonna be at the local places with us. We’re in and out of the city, we don’t claim that we’re from Cleveland or from New York, but there are people that are there that are doing ill work that are trying to bring people together and solve some of this stuff. That’s why we’re putting it in the people’s hands. Let’s do this together. Let’s build it up.
AB: So there’s a community organization aspect to the tour, too.
JR: Exactly. We don’t profess to be community organizers, we’re community mobilizers. As artists we can get a lot of people in one room. A grassroots fan base is one thing, and that’s what we’re trying to reach out to, but Toussaint and I are also using our industry credentials. He’s being humble, but he had a look from USA Today. The fifth anniversary of The White Rapper Show is in 2012. I was on television with three million viewers every week for two months in 2007. It played all over in Europe. If you look on my Twitter I have over 11,000 fans from all over the world. Toussaint blows out bandcamp because of downloads. He has to buy more downloads because people want to download his mixtape. This isn’t a new story, this is the story of community organization, community artists, community period, and people coming together trying to make the world a better place. We’re just two dudes trying to offer our piece.