This weekend I headed down to the Kuumba festival at Harbourfront in Toronto to hear the Boss and ego trip’s Sacha Jenkins speak. The event was really interesting, but, predictably, the question period got a wee bit off topic. It was tame by comparison to most of the forums I've been to. Mayhem has reigned supreme at pretty much every hip-hop panel Q&A I’ve ever attended. When folks get in a group, the ability to pose a simple question seems to evaporate.
Back in the summer of 2005, I went to see Nelson George and Jeff Chang speak at the CUNY graduate center, and a bunch of randoms commandeered the mic and let loose with all manner of irrelevant blather. One guy took the floor to complain about the high volume that dudes in the big apple bumped rap out car windows. (“It’s audio assault,” he whined.) Another shaggy-haired baby boomer pompously delivered a reading list to George. A third wanted to share his life story in the world of rock—to illustrate who knows what point. Thankfully, a girl sitting behind me stood up and yelled for the gentleman to sit down and shut the eff up already.
From years of attending these panels, I can pretty much guarantee that the following characters will turn up to derail the question period.
This dude is so hungry for the spotlight, he will hijack the question period and make it all about him. He will preface his question with elaborate displays of knowledge and/or endless references to his own resume of accomplishments.
Doing away with any pretences of posing a question, this person will use the Q&A period to make passionate speeches, attempting to garner support for whatever community issue they’re currently involved with. Occasionally, the issue may be peripherally relevant to the forum topic—but usually it isn’t.
Similarly, this individual simply cannot let a good crowd go to waste. Expect him to bust into rhymes.
The Angry Fan
This person secretly adores the speaker, but is frustrated with their own lack of access to him or her. Instead of bumrushing the stage after the show like everyone else, this individual will grab the mic and complain that the speaker is inaccessible, and demand digits and/or mentorship.
The Marketing Machine
Stop the presses. This person has a dope mixtape, a hot open mic night, a crazy campus radio show. It’s vital to the survival of hip-hop that you support it.
Truth be told, this dynamic is way bigger than hip-hop. Go to any public lecture and you will find that the question period has nothing at all to do with questions. My friend Charlie wrote a hilarious op-ed on the subject last year, suggesting that it’s high time to give Q&As the boot. I have to agree.