Freestyle: Hip-hop contest comes to town

Aug. 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

Rapper and promoter Sellassie is a veteran performer himself. COURTESY SELLASSIE)

Rapper and promoter Sellassie is a veteran performer himself, with many appearances in the Bay Area and beyond. (Photo courtesy Sellassie)

UPDATE: I was contacted by the manager for eleven44 on Aug. 28; Sellassie has cancelled the 2 Racks Rap Contest. The club will remain open with an open mic for hip-hop fans.


A 2 Racks Rap Contest for aspiring hip-hop performers is coming to town, but not before weathering some setbacks and controversy.

Of course, for hip-hop artists, challenges and controversy are a constant part of the game. But Sellassie, the San Francisco rapper who promotes 2 Racks, said he’s pushing to overcome the hurdles and bring Honolulu this competitive game.



» Where: Eleven44, 1144 Bethel St.
» When: Saturday, August 28, 8 p.m.
» Cost: $20
» Info:

The title 2 Racks refers to the $2,000 prize, awarded to one top performer. About 30 acts will vie for the prize, taking the stage in quick succession for a fast-paced 1.5 minute showcase. They are judged by a panel of pros and media types who single out a player with professional potential.

Sellassie maintained that it’s not just prize money that makes the contest worthwhile, though — it’s bringing diverse musicians (and their fans) together to hear each other, learn from each other, and build a stronger scene.

“The idea is to get independent artists to come together to listen to each others’ music, play to a packed house and get their music out to a whole new audience,” he said.

He’s been at it for years now, with contests in San Francisco, L.A., Brooklyn and other cities in 12 states over the past four years. There are Youtube videos out there of performers in other cities, who rave about the good experience that they’ve had.

Sellassie said the primary requirement, aside from talent, is that no violent, misogynist or gangster rap is allowed. The rapper, who is on a Northern California bill with outspoken hip-hop artist Dead Prez on Aug. 21, said, “That’s the kind of hip-hop I’m allied with.”

“We encourage political, smart hip-hop,” he said. Would-be contestants are asked to give organizers links to audio or video clips, when available. If the competitors are thought not to be on the right track, they will get some basic feedback.

But locally, there has been some talk of resentment over a pay-to-play setup like 2 Racks.

THE WAY IT WORKS is that there is a $300 entry fee. In return, the performer is given 20 tickets to sell at $20 each, leaving the performer with $100 in pocket if all tickets are sold.

I get it. In Honolulu, $20 for a ticket can be a hardship when prices are high, and musicians rarely make much bank from performing.

The cost of admission is a price each performer will have to weigh. But Sellassie — who told me, by the way, that his name was given to him by his parents, Bay Area activists who honored Ethiopian king Haile Sellassie, as a boy — said he believes performers will get value from the show.

“I want to make this work,” he said. “I’m going to be coming back and forth to Hawaii. I have things happening there.”

The show was originally scheduled for The Republik, before rescheduling at eleven44, a smaller venue. Sellassie said he’s been deploying street teams to help get out the word before the Aug. 28 show.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.

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