Jay-Z’s champagne boycott—dubbed Cristal Gate by XXL’s own Eskay—has attracted truckloads of press in the last few weeks. But Hov isn’t the only hip-hop head getting his activist on. 
To much less fanfare, the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention (NHHPC) has been fighting its own battle against a Sheriff determined to ban hip-hop.
Vegas activists are set to gather for an event called Impeach the Sheriff on Monday June 26 at the Winchester Park Auditorium at 7pm.
The tension between the Las Vegas Police Department and the hip-hop community has been more than a year in the making.
In June of 2005, Sheriff Bill Young wrote a letter to the Gaming Control Board requesting their help in getting casinos to ban gangsta rap shows. His letter followed the May murders of Kansas City rapper Fat Tone and local rapper Mr. Looks, as well as a shooting after a Nelly/Fat Joe concert. Sheriff Young claimed that hip-hop had become a public safety issue.
Then, on February 1, 2006, an aspiring rapper named Trajik (Amir Crump) of Desert Mobb got into a shoot-out with police after they responded to a domestic abuse call. Sergeant Henry Prendes was killed and Trajik was also shot to death. Sheriff Young (who was expected to campaign for re-election) subsequently stepped up his efforts to get hip-hop banned in Las Vegas.
The Gaming Control Board came out shortly after this and warned all hotels and casinos that they would be held legally accountable for any hip-hop-related violence that occurred on their premises. “There have been numerous incidents of violence before, during and after several gangster rap concerts, not just in Las Vegas, but nationally, as well,” the memo said. “The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department considers these events as serious threats to the community.”
Initially the hotels and casinos opted against banning hip-hop, but it looks like they may be starting to cave to pressure. (A Snoop Dogg concert was cancelled at Rio Hotel in late March.)
The Regents at University of Las Vegas Nevada also recently attempted to ban hip-hop shows on campus, although the motion was not passed as it was found to be unconstitutional.
J. Michael Carr Jr., President of A New Way Media, a Vegas grassroots media company, says that local live venues have been refusing to host hip-hop events, despite the fact that the City of Las Vegas has not ratified this policy officially. Carr recently had to get the American Civil Liberties Union involved in order to obtain a venue for an underground hip-hop event.
“The demographics of Las Vegas have changed over the past ten or fifteen years,” Carr explains. “No longer is it a retirement community. We have a lot of young people moving here, a lot of black and brown people. And the [Vegas residents] are scared. The Sheriff is playing to his Republican base and to their fears and anxieties.”
Carr believes that hip-hop is being misrepresented and that the Sheriff’s attempts to ban the music constitute a free speech issue. “If this can happen in Las Vegas—the entertainment capital of the world—it can surely happen in small rural areas,” he says.
Troy Buckner-Nkrumah, a lawyer that serves as Internal Chair for the National Hip-Hop Convention (NHHPC), and an organizer of the Las Vegas chapter, agrees that the Sheriff’s concerns about hip-hop are not warranted.
“The Sheriff’s position is that hip-hop brings out a crowd that is going to get violent—that they are gang-affiliated and that they are going to fight with one another,” he explains. “When asked ‘OK, well, where has this happened at?’ he has no shows to talk about. He just starts talking about what happens after the shows. And so the Nelly incident is something that happened after the Nelly concert, off the grounds of the venue. I think people were in the parking lot, so that was enough to connect it with the show and hip-hop. When I did an interview debate with the Sheriff, I raised the issue of: ‘How do you know it wasn’t the alcohol that did it? Alcohol is responsible for more people in jail on violent crimes than hip-hop ever has been, but you’re not trying to ban alcohol.’”
“It’s proof that they’re just using this,” Buckner-Nkrumah continues. “There’s fights and violence at all kinds of events, not just hip-hop shows. Boxing matches, rock shows, punk shows. But it’s hip-hop that’s being attacked.”
“The constitution is clear that you cannot limit music or art based on its content,” he adds. “And that’s exactly what they are trying to do.”
Andreas Hale, editor-in-chief of Hip-Hop DX, a Vegas-based hip-hop website, and a member of the NHHPC Vegas Chapter, says that the Sheriff is drawing a false link between the Trajik incident and hip-hop culture. “Anyone can be an aspiring whatever,” Hale says. “I could be an aspiring grocer, but if I kill a cop is it ‘Aspiring Grocer Kills Cop’? No. But because of some of the negative stereotypes that are affiliated with hip-hop, they put the two together and they think that hip-hop breeds violence.”
“I think they have been wanting to stop hip-hop events for a long time, ” he adds. “But they needed an excuse. And they finally got one.”
Carr, Hale, and Buckner-Nkrumah maintain that the Sheriff has refused numerous invitations to meet with the hip-hop community.
Sheriff Young announced to the press last month that he will not be seeking re-election. He declined to be interviewed for this column.
Buckner-Nkrumah views the Sheriff’s decision not to run as a victory for hip-hop activists. “We showed the urban youth out here that you can stand up to authority, and that you do have rights,” he explains.
“If you look at our next event, you will see that we kept the title the same: Impeach the Sheriff,” he adds. “We don’t necessarily mean the Sheriff who is in office now, but any Sheriff that tries to deny us of our civil rights and culture.”
 Extremely bummed to be missing Jay’s show tonight, it’s true.