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Street level

Oklahoma’s largest hip-hop fest returns to Tulsa

World Culture Music Festival is for the community, by the community.

Greg Bollinger

Lollapalooza and Coachella have become household names as two of the largest commercially successful American music festivals, attracting flower-laden concert goers since the 1990s. With music festivals sprouting in nearly every major city across the globe, many argue that the countercultural essence of festivals in the ‘60s and ‘70s has been overshadowed by a commercial rat race for ticket sales and all-star lineups.

One aspect of festival culture that has remained constant is its tendency to attract primarily white audiences. During Coachella’s formative years, it was rare to find a hip-hop act in its laundry list of performers. While efforts have been made to diversify lineups to include more hip-hop and R&B acts, people of color are still forced to perform in predominantly white spaces organized by and to the benefit of white men. This issue has caught the attention of notable artists such as Chance the Rapper, The Roots, and Tyler the Creator who have curated their own festivals with a more community-minded approach.

Local hip-hop artist and Tulsa icon Steph Simon had a similar idea when he decided to create a hip-hop festival for the community by the community. Simon’s goal for what would become World Culture Music Festival was simple: showcase artists who regularly contribute to Tulsa’s burgeoning hip-hop scene as well as a few outside acts. While the festival boasted humble beginnings, it was a success from the start.

I spoke with the festival’s top organizers Steph Simon, Kennan Lane (Keeng Cut) and Antonio Andrews (Dialtone) about its roots and continued growth.     

“It’s the spirit. It’s just in us,” Lane said. “Some of the stuff we’re doing, we don’t even know why we doing it—something got us.

World Culture Music alone has lead us to so many other opportunities to make Black Wall Street better, to advance it,” he continued.

“It’s all about showcasing artists who are putting in work in the city,” Andrews added. “We know the city; we’re from here. We know the people and the energy of the city. It’s a ground level type thing.”

While most marquee festivals begin with a meeting of wealthy investors, the roots of WCMF are firmly DIY. “We put our money together. We were sponsoring it ourselves [in the beginning]. There’s eight of us now; it’s got a little easier to do,” Simon said. “It’s progressed and got the whole city’s attention—if you ask me, it’s up there with Mayfest, Oktoberfest. People look forward to this. It’s like a holiday.”

Since those early days of pooling resources among organizers, WCMF has gained sponsorship from organizations such as Williams, George Kaiser Foundation, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, as well as several private donors.

Now entering its fourth year, the festival has grown into the largest hip-hop event in Oklahoma, attracting acts from across the U.S. like headliner Larry June, an emcee from the Bay Area who has toured with artists like Cousin Stizz and Post Malone.

For Simon, WCMF is more than a festival. It’s a movement propelled by likeminded artists and entrepreneurs who want to see the continued revitalization of Black Wall Street. “It was put together by descendants with their own money … and funded by and catered toward people who come from that same environment—and I think that’s a big reason why it’s grown too,” Simon said.

“We’re pretty much all descendants of Black Wall Street,” Lane said. “We’re from North Tulsa. We all are black entrepreneurs outside of this. We also have support from a lot of the other people bringing back Black Wall Street—the first two years, most of them sponsored us. These are all of our brands.”

Organizers welcome the festival’s growth year after year but acknowledge the importance of maintaining its independent vibe. “I just want it to always have that grassroots feel to it, that local feel to it,” Andrews said. “That’s the perfect balance having the sponsors but still having the local tie to it—because it’s from the city.”

WCMF 2019 Will take place May 24–26 and will include performances from more than 50 artists across five different stages and venues in the Tulsa Arts District. Entry is free for performances in Chimera, Soundpony and Spinster Records. Inner Circle will be charging $10 at the door, and tickets to see Larry June at Vanguard are on sale at wcmtulsa.com.

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