When did you fall in love with hip-hop? What seems like an easy question to answer, typically turns into a bottomless pit of memories, each reaffirming one's attachment to the genre. After all, true hip-hop fans can say that the music and culture had a hand in raising them. This is no different for Wes and Ebonie Jackson, founders of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. In response to the opening question, their eyes closed, and they each drifted off into recollections of how hip-hop shaped their childhood.
"I was born in October '73. I'm as old as hip-hop. I remember being 5, 6 years old and seeing my brother play "Rapper's Delight" on the turntables. It's all I've ever known." – Wes Jackson
"I feel like I've always been in love with hip-hop, it was always a part of life. I grew up in Queens, which has a very rich hip-hop history. It was always there, I don't remember when I started calling myself a hip-hop head, I just always was." – Ebonie Jackson
The Jacksons grew up 20 minutes apart, but wouldn't meet until early adulthood. The idea that they've used to create a legacy is the same function that brought them together in the first place. Wes and Ebonie met as classmates at the University of Virginia. One, a wide-eyed freshman looking to get involved on campus; the other, a motivated junior letting inspiration lead him into any new endeavor. Wes was managing an artist poised to win a big talent show on campus, as long as he could get that artist to perform last on the show. Standing in the way of that was none other than Ebonie who was in charge of the lineup.
Wes didn't get his way, but a deeper connection was formed resulting in one of the best hip-hop festivals in the country. By 2004, the husband-and-wife duo had only been married a few years when a trip to the New Orleans Jazz Festival would change their lives forever. Eating, drinking, and watching artists ranging from Frankie Beverly to Dave Matthews left a lasting impression on Wes. He felt so inspired by an event that was able to give him the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of New Orleans all in one weekend. That's when inspiration struck and Wes decided it would be dope to give people that same experience in Brooklyn, but focused on hip-hop.
The idea turned to reality through a hands-on approach that only an independent business can have. After forging a strategic partnership with Brooklyn Brewery for some financial backing, creating the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival was under way within six months. At first glance, strategic partnerships seem like a no-brainer when it comes to building recognition for your brand. Why not pitch the festival idea to more well-known brands that could amplify its reach, bringing in larger numbers right away? After all, there are plenty of benefits that come along with strategic partnerships. Obviously, there are positives to consider.
— Brand reach and awareness increases through exposure to different markets.
— Your product or service improves as a result of exposure to markets outside of your industry. You get feedback you may not have gotten otherwise.
— Many times, a strategic partner will provide a financial boost to your brand. This adds a new realm of capability that may not have been accessible before.
Luckily, Brooklyn Brewery proved to have the same independent energy, and to be a worthy partner for launching the festival. Wes prides himself on not running to nationally-recognized brands to fuel the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival machine. Once those brands supply the money, they tend to want creative control, especially if their brand has a larger audience to leverage. This hints at the possible negatives that come along with partnering with larger entities.
— Loss of creative control can occur the minute the brand you're partnering with is footing most of the bill.
— Employee crossover can happen, and your team may suffer from misuse or mistreatment by the organization you're partnering with.
— Ownership of an idea is a huge vulnerable spot for any brand doing strategic partnerships. If the brand you're partnering with is more well-known, there's a risk that your idea will be associated with them instead of you.
Wes and Ebonie pride themselves on getting their hands dirty and building the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival up from an event in a parking lot to a nationally recognized spectacle bringing together some of the heaviest hitters in the game. The festival stage has been touched by legends like Nas, KRS One, Jay-Z, DMX, Rakim, and more. Victory is sweet, but it doesn't come without hardship. There are plenty of arguments, frustrations, and hurdles to overcome in the midst of running a festival every year. It's the family-like environment of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival team that pushes them through those difficult moments.
The team is small, but it's clear they care about one another. Furthermore, they deeply care about the vision of founders Wes and Ebonie. The two have created a space where young professionals can come in and become directors and managers as long as they prove that they've got what it takes to succeed; perhaps that's the true beauty of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. It's more than performances, it's a family headed up by two people who made it their life's work to continue the tradition of hip-hop appreciation, while providing opportunities for young kids who otherwise might not have had such a challenge.
From July 10 to July 15, the festival will not only feature gifted MCs we all know and love; it will also feature events that lend toward the larger goal of educating the hip-hop community through conversation and creativity. Whether you're checking out Forbes columnist Julian Mitchell's "Get Paid To Be Yourself" series live with Ryan Leslie and Rob Stone, or the Hip-Hop Institute full of information on social justice, health & wellness, and entrepreneurship, you're sure to walk away with more than just great performances.
In 2011 alone, the festival broke records with over 30,000 in attendance. It's a true testament to what hard work, perseverance, and good intentions can do as long as you stay true to your vision. This year will be no different, the line-up contains the recipe for yet another classic run. Make sure you head to Brooklyn and get your dose of the culture the right way. Born from hip-hop, and cultivated for the community.