West Virginia’s small but active hip-hop community is striving to normalize hip-hop as an art form. The YWCA in Wheeling recently held an event called Hip Hop: A Black Tie Affair to help bring legitimacy to the community in the Northern Panhandle.  

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, who was one of about 175 people in attendance, said this event aims to break the mold of what is considered typical for West Virginia.

“An event like this, doesn’t fit any stereotype of what you’d think you’d experience in West Virginia,” Elliot said.

The event combined local art based in hip-hop culture, a DJ who played old hip-hop samples on vinyl for the duration of the event, and a video with rappers from around the Ohio Valley reciting freestyle verses.

One of the rappers featured in the video is Chermayne Davis, or as she’s known in the hip-hop community “Mz. NewYork”.  Davis was encouraged to see the crowd that came out to support homegrown hip-hop.

“It is a beautiful thing to tap into the different parts of Wheeling and the surrounding areas and get the love, and to feel that, to see it,” she said. “Everyone came out dipped in dapper, dressed to the nines for hip-hop.”

The classy dress code was intentional, said Ron Scott, the YMCA’s cultural diversity and community outreach director. 

Scott, who also organized the event, said it was a way to bring something unexpected to the hip-hop celebration.

“The idea of blending elegance and hip-hop was big to me because I believe it gives it a level of maturity that I don’t believe hip hop has yet,  but we’re getting there,” he said. 

The night capped off with a hip-hop tradition: the cypher. This is where rappers pass the mic around, and freestyle over beats that they haven’t heard before in what’s kind of a friendly competition.

It requires a lot of skill to be able to publicly spit out coherent rhymes that tell a story or comment on a given scenario, under pressure, but Davis said for her, nothing could be more natural.

She said when she freestyles her mind is clear. 

“Like hip hop is a part of me,” Davis explained. “It’s coming from, like, my heart, and I don’t want to sound mushy like a Care Bear, but it’s coming from inside of me.”

According to Nielsen ratings, in 2017, hip-hop became America’s most consumed music genre. Young people across the country and across West Virginia have taken up rapping as a hobby, and there’s quite a bit of talent in the region.

Yet, it remains an underground artform that’s poorly embraced by the larger community here — if at all.  Scott said he hopes to change public perceptions with this event, and others like it.

“I love these artists,” he said. “I really love the work that they put into their craft. I like that I view it as a craft, as an art.  So they have to get acknowledged for that, and if I don’t, I don’t know who else will.”

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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