An Open Letter to Afropunk: Why your true fans want to break up with you

Dear Afropunk homies:

Today, my girl sent me an article that you guys posted called "RE: NO PUNK AT AFROPUNK." This year was my first time attending the fest, and I, like many other people who identify as punk, was surprised by the lack of punk culture at the festival. I have friends who work for Afropunk right now and for that reason I didn't blog about it. My blog has a pretty decent following. But you guys should know that already, because you've been posting my music and vids on your site for the past 3 years. I'd never want to publicly throw shade at AP because, after all, I believe your intentions are good. However, when I read your recent article rebutting the outcry from your fans who didn't think Afropunk Fest was punk enough, I felt like I had been silent on the topic for too long.

As someone who does business with corporations like Viacom, McDonalds, and whoever else is down to do something cool with me, I totally get that Afropunk is a company that is trying to grow their brand and turn a profit. It wasn't too long ago when AP was having financial struggles, and in spite of all the love you got from your hardcore, loyal punk supporters, those mofos weren't really spending any bread. It took some business savvy to keep the site afloat. Kudos for that. And I get that Afropunk has NEVER tried to claim that the black punk movement was based upon rock music alone, black people are diverse and many folks who are into electro, hip hop, reggae, etc. really do identify as punk. You guys opted to include those people instead of acting like music snobs, which is fortunate because I fit into that crazy category of punk hybrids. And hey, I totally get your need for corporate sponsors. I get that James Spooner, Afropunk's originator, is no longer involved in the festival so, naturally, things were gonna change. I get the need to remain relevant in an oversaturated industry. I get it.

Now, let me tell you what I don't get.

I don't get how you can possibly expect the fan base that made you relevant in the first place to accept the vast changes you've made under the auspices of you "growing up." It sorta seems like your article blatantly told your original fan base, aka "purists," that you outgrew them. You basically told them that they're only disappointed because they are narrow minded and need to "widen their definition of punk." That's a bold move, and if you have an infrastructure in place to support your choice if your core audience bails, then I guess it's smart business. However, I'd like to remind you that all popular culture fads eventually fall out of relevancy, and in those moments your core fan base is important because that is who will keep you afloat. That is who will share your site's content and get you more unique visitors. That is who will wear your AP t-shirt so that younger kids will see how awesome they look and wanna be down with AP, too. They'll keep you from becoming BlackPlanet.com. And no, I don't agree with the people who accuse you of abandoning your core fan base. You're just losing touch.

I don't get why you guys had vendors at the event who weren't indicative of punk culture. I came to the fest ready to spend SO MUCH MONEY on t-shirts, jewelry, music, body art, etc. Like, literally, I stopped at the ATM on the way there and I brought a big ass bag with me just to help me carry all the stuff I planned to buy. Instead, what I got was the equivalent of my hometown's African Festival of the Arts:

I mean... would it have killed you guys to find some vendors who sell traditional punk stuff? I didn't see ONE VENDOR selling body piercing jewelry, I was gutted. You guys DID have a bunch of indie designers there, which I thought was super cool and progressive. Maybe you were relying on them to bring more counter culture goods? I just feel like that is a detail that shouldn't be left to chance at an event like this. Do you know how hard I searched for a new Jimi Hendrix t-shirt? Guess how many I found? Zero. Zero many. Unless the vendor selling a boho, tie dyed, knee length, ruffle sleeved dress with Jimi Hendrix's face printed on the bottom counts. I don't think it counts.

I don't get why you guys had a DJ who played mostly hip hop between sets. It was good hip hop, I have to admit that. Really good hip hop. Soooo much really good hip hop. I mean... just copious amounts of great hip hop. And a dash of rock and electro. You guys state in your mission statement that "Afro-punk is a platform for the other Black experience, the one we don't see in our media." We see hip hop and black folks everyday in our media. So what gives? I'm not trying to bust your balls. I'm just saying.

I don't get why artists who routinely get featured on your site have such a hard time getting booked for your events. I have heard this complaint from at least 10 different artists. And I experienced it myself.

I have never admitted this publicly before, but I might as well be honest. Last year when I released my mixtape, it had a pretty substantial buzz. I thought that since I'd gotten my weight up after being politely ignored the 2 previous years, surely you guys would book me for an event. I sent Matthew Morgan the following message on 10/15/11:

Hi, Matt. I have been a member of Afropunk for several years. I have my own original music playing on 4 major television networks. I have a respectable buzz online and I am THE ONLY female black punk/hip hop artist to have a licensing deal with MTV/VH1. I am also on the official line up for both A3C hip hop festival and CMJ. I have inquired about being booked for Afropunk events in the past, and typically I don't get a reply to these emails. The CMJ event that you are planning is something that my music would fit into, and I would like, for once, to be seriously considered for a performance slot. I noticed that you don't have a female artist on the line-up, I would like to be considered.

I think that if up & coming artists like me, who are both hip hop and rock and are making strides in the industry, can get support from the Afropunk community then that bodes well for the future of the black punk movement. As a black "not-exactly-urban" female artist. I face my fair share of challenges, and while I am always grateful when AP posts my music on the site, I would be very happy to finally be considered for a performance slot. You can check out my Sonicbids EPK here.

This was Matt's reply:

Nikki
Appreciate your support and will certainly consider you for a slot in the very near future. The show on the 18th is booked and i cannot add additional acts. I promise you for all your persistence you will be rewarded very soon. Thank you.

I never heard from you guys about a booking again. Ever. It was easier to get booked for A3C Fest and 3 shows at CMJ, have my blog featured on The View, and to get mentioned in Billboard and XXL Magazine than to even get considered for an Afropunk slot.

So I just stopped caring. And I stopped being involved.

The thing is, I never decided that I was Afropunk, other people told me that I was. That's how I learned about AP in the first place, I can't help that the correlation is made. (Being called a "black punk" sorta wierds me out anyway, to be truthful.) In interviews and write ups, in much of the press that I've done, because I am black and "alternative" I get associated with Afropunk. You guys coined the term and then strayed from the original meaning of it. That's dangerous. Some of us got beat up as kids for being punk. Some of us got called dikes and fags for it, some of us got alienated by our own families, some of us faced mental breakdowns because we felt we were just born to be counter culture, even at times when we really didn't wanna be. You can't dumb down the culture without your die-hard fans getting pissed. Period.

And as far as being an "Afropunk artist" goes, I hate to say this because I fucking love what you guys are trying to do, but I've had to make a point of telling people not to call me Afropunk, ESPECIALLY when I do press. You have no idea how often it comes up (if you don't believe me, just ask any one of the indie black punk artists who have been doing press in America over the past few years.) The public perception of what that means is so strange. Maybe one of the reasons your fans are so pissed now is because they don't wanna be associated with hipsters. There is no social movement behind hipster culture, it's just people rebelling with fashion, for nothing. It's shallow. It's not punk without indignation over something, without the social and political part it's just... a fad.

I don't wear my culture on my sleeve like many hardcore punks do. It's not important that I be seen as the epitome of punk rock, I am cool with my identity. So I feel hella separate from the AP movement now. You guys proclaim that "D.I.Y (Do It Yourself) is the foundation," but you guys haven't really done much to keep the trailblazing indie artists around. As far as I'm concerned, you guys post my content and I'm hella grateful, and I even licensed a song to your documentary for free just to support. But aside from that I'm not really affiliated with Afropunk.

No need to candy coat, Afropunk is evolving. You're moving away from being taste-makers and moving into that phase where you have to  scale back on the weirdness unless it makes for cool site content, and you're becoming more mainstream because that makes your business more commercially viable. You have to book bigger names for performances because you have corporate sponsors, and the indie musicians have to participate in a popularity contest that brings attention to your site just to get opening slots. Again, I get it. But at this point, I think we have to acknowledge that there is no black punk movement around Afropunk. Instead, Afropunk is blossoming into a successful upstart, an example of a company full of young, ambitious minorities who, through hard work and commitment, were able to build a brand and make it profitable. And the future looks brighter for you everyday. I don't see anything wrong with that. I respect that, in fact. I just don't get why you are so afraid to admit it.

 

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  • Nikki
    You got me on this one I have no idea what afropunk is.
    In my day the use of the word punk was 3rd behind bitch and motherflacker.

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