Sonoma County hip-hop scene strikes a fresh note
When musician and concert producer Josh Windmiller booked a slate of hip-hop artists at the last Railroad Square Music Festival, held in June in Santa Rosa, he opened a door.
One of the artists who performed at that event, Damion Square, whose stage name is D.square, wasted no time getting through that door of opportunity while it was still open.
He got in touch with Windmiller and now the two of them are presenting a series of local hip-hop talent showcases titled “Manifest Your Destiny,” opening Saturday at Jasper’s in Sebastopol.
“This is very, very fresh. The inspiration for this series came from the Railroad Square Music Festival,” Square said. “The audience response was overwhelming. For me, it was such an eye-opening experience in terms of seeing the potential audience for quality hip-hop in this community.”
He will perform Saturday along with four other Northern California artists: Scoodah Blazz, Erica Ambrin, KingLung and Simoné Mosely.
Two more showcases, with different lineups, are planned for Sept. 2 at Horse and Plow in Sebastopol and Sept. 9 at the Big Easy in Petaluma.
“It’s not about me. It’s bigger than that,” Square said. “There was a history on hip-hop here, but I think it’s dwindled down. You have an underground scene, with local shows at Jasper’s and the Arlene Francis Center” (see accompanying story).
The partnership with Windmiller, who helps book talent for the Railroad Square event and Petaluma’s annual Rivertown Revival, as well as other venues, offers local hip-hop artists the opportunity to perform for pay, instead of paying to perform at area venues, Square said.
“There’s an audience here, but the infrastructure to capture that audience needs to be built,” Square said.
For Windmiller, the prospect of reaching a new audience is intriguing.
“I really wasn’t aware of what was going with hip-hop here,” he said. “I was promoting a lot of Americana music for years. I’ve started to see hip-hop shows lately. It feels like there’s palpable energy.”
For Square, a graduate of both Santa Rosa Junior College and the poetry slam scene, the showcase series is a major step forward.
“There a lot of hip-hop shows out there, but they aren’t curated,” he said.
The showcases will feature five carefully chosen artists at each event.
He cites a regional musical legacy dating back to Tupac Shakur, the New York City-born rapper who settled in the Bay Area in 1988 and was a central figure in West Coast hip-hop until his death in 1996.
Square, born in Alabama, traveled with his military family and found his own community in the arts.
“I’ve been doing poetry at open mics since 2016. Poetry has been a safe spot for me. That turned into something more. I started doing music 2018 while I was at San Francisco State University,” he said. “I am part of the African American literary tradition.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.