Hip-Hop 101: KALA’s Tiana “DJ Powder” Washington Shepherds the Quad Cities Black Music Conference, May 30 at St. Ambrose University Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 20 May 2010 06:00

Tiana Washington, a.k.a. DJ PowderOn May 30, St. Ambrose University will host the Quad Cities Black Music Conference, a gathering of Midwestern artists, producers, beat masters, DJs, and promoters for a first-of-its-kind symposium on the Midwestern hip-hop scene. Yet while the event's main focus is music, for organizer Tiana Washington - better known as program host "DJ Powder" for St. Ambrose's KALA-FM - the day is all about learning.

"I realized that there was not enough education," says Washington, "especially for those who are serious [about hip-hop] and have created some headway for themselves. And it was time. Time to create an event that focused on not just the music element, but on the education and business sides of music.

"Because, you know, [radio station] B-100 can't play something that's not put through the proper channels. DJs cannot just do a friend a favor and play their music. And there's this perception that that can happen."

Washington laughs. "We gotta talk about that."

And with subject matter including breaking into the industry, management, publishing rights, and the necessity of positive messages and role models, the symposium will find Washington - a Quad Cities native who received a degree in public relations and marketing from St. Ambrose - and her fellow music experts and educators talking about a lot of things.

The idea for the conference, Washington says, had been gestating for the better part of a decade, spurred by what she considered negative shifts in the music industry.

"What happened about 10 years ago," she says, "was that there became a very dumbed-down method to getting yourself into the spotlight. Things like American Idol and MySpace made it so that raw talent - those people who were singing in their garages and learning how to play instruments and playing local cafés - became super-lower-totem-pole-dwellers.

Debra Antney"Whereas people who had the money or the right support systems," Washington said, "they could buy their way in, or fake it 'til they made it. That is not the way it's supposed to be. You need to earn your way in. You need to be real talent."

As for what she sees as a more insidious threat, Washington states: "For our youth, there's this ideology that illicit drug use, heavy drinking, an over-focus on sexual stuff - what I would call 'gross immorality' - is how hip-hop and rap are most often presented. And so you have young men wanting to go out and mimic that. And we can't have that."

Particularly troublesome, Washington says, is hip-hop's notorious anti-female bias. "There seems to be an intense epidemic towards this, because mainstream media is not saying that this is wrong. They're placing musicians who have a long history of misogynistic lyrics in the spotlight, and what that does is give artists the perception that, 'Well, if I do that, then I, too, can be successful.'

"There are some really bad habits," Washington adds, "that are being put out there as cool."

Consequently, she plans for the conference to stress the positivity in hip-hop through such guests as KALA Operations Manager David Baker, Des Moines-based music promoter Bo James, and local educator J.D. Wilson, who, says Washington, "taught at J.B. Young for several years, but was also a rapper. So he's going to come in and talk about the necessity of a positive message in music. I don't think that's something that young musicians are usually exposed to."

Describing the day's schedule, Washington says, "From 10 to 11:30 [a.m.], we've got a couple of open-forum discussions led by individuals I hand-selected, just to start the conversation on 'Where is hip-hop at today? Where is the industry?' And after that very open, broad conversation, we're gonna slow the pace down with a luncheon where people can network directly."

Following the morning's events, the general public is invited to join conference attendees for a noontime Hip-Hop Fashion Show. And wrapping up the day's activities, from 1 to 3 p.m., will be a series of workshops on such topics as promotional tools, electronic-press-kit structure, and relationship-building, with Mizay Entertainment CEO Debra Antney on-hand to discuss her success in the music industry.

"In the last two years," says Washington, "she has catapulted two ... rappers [Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj] to ... stardom. But she is a woman, and that is not the norm. So I want to expose young men to the concept that you can utilize powerful women to get closer to where you want to go."

Tiana Washington, a.k.a. DJ PowderIn the end, says Washington, her hope for the conference is to both demystify the music industry for area talents and - if only in a localized way - to help foster a less-stereotypical image for the hip-hop genre.

"A lot of times, the media only exposes the club fights," she says. "Or the negatives that occur at hip-hop events. And so, as a nation of young hip-hop people, we've really been barred from many of the places that book music events because there's a bad stigma attached. And we want to change that.

"I've always stayed very dedicated to this area," Washington adds. "This is where I grew up, this is my home, and I didn't want to leave here to do music in the east or in the west. I got my degree specifically to help this area. And I always had a belief that there was good talent here. We just had to explore it and give it a few more resources."


The Quad Cities Black Music Conference will be held at St. Ambrose University's Rogalski Center Ballroom from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 30, with the Hip-Hop Fashion Show - open to the general public - taking place from noon to 1 p.m. For more information on the day, and to register for the conference, call Tiana "DJ Powder" Washington at (563)940-6831 or visit TheBlackMusicConference.com.

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