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Cotton Comes to Brooklyn: The Prime 6 Petition

2011 March 15

If you’re not from Brooklyn then you probably haven’t heard, but this past week —one in which we observed the anniversary of the death of rapper Biggie Smalls—the big hubbub has been all about the proposed new bar/club in Park Slope to be called Prime 6. Apparently the thought of a new bar that caters to a young crowd of sport enthusiasts and hip hop fans has thrown Park Slope into an autocannibalistic tizzy. Now, to be fair, that general area around the Atlantic Yards stadium that is being built has been a battleground for some years now. The developers had to wrest the properties away from owners and shut down long-time neighborhood establishments, and it’s turning Brooklyn into a little sliver of midtown Manhattan. Yes, there are a lot of reasons many Brooklynites might take issue with the whole Atlantic Yards development, but I should hardly think that a new club being opened up on Flatbush Avenue would cause such a fracas.

For those of you not in the know, Park Slope is a semi-affluent community in Brooklyn that runs up against the northwest side of Prospect Park.  You may think you’re unfamiliar with it, but much of what is depicted as “Brooklyn” in movies and television is Park Slope-ish, with its brownstones on one-way streets chock full of trees and clean sidewalks. So at least it’s the “ideal” Brooklyn that most people know of. One other major feature of Park Slope is that it is bordered by Flatbush Avenue, one of the largest and most popular streets in Brooklyn.  Flatbush leads right into the Manhattan Bridge, it’s not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, and it’s one of the quickest ways to get across the borough if there’s no traffic. In short, Flatbush is considered the Broadway of Brooklyn.

So, while Park Slope is a collection of upscale restaurants, crunchy coffee and tea bistros, and otherwise quaint, quiet residential blocks, Flatbush is chock-full of bars, dance clubs, and trendy food “joints.”  It’s where what’s happening IS happening. Normally this dichotomy strikes a somewhat awkward but mutually beneficial balance. Mind you, Park Slope was not always affluent. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, it was home to lots of artsy types (before that was cool) and some sketchier elements of the borough.  Sometime in the 90s it was “discovered” for its beautiful parks, great schools, and amazing architecture.  Since then Park Slope has seen a real up-tick in yuppies, young families, and hipsters. Not necessarily in a bad way, either, but suffice it to say I still find it odd that streets where you once used to see old guys with pony tails smoking pot and talking shit on the corners are now full of strollers and “Brooklyn” boutique apparel shops. At any rate, the neighborhood is still diverse, yes, but it’s getting less and less so every year. And no one can really deny it.

So maybe it should have come as no surprise when the Slopers around the corner from the proposed location for Prime 6 were exorcised about a hip hop night club going up in their neighborhood. They aren’t that Brooklyn crowd anymore. They don’t get that. And as far as I’m concerned, as a native Brooklynite, I try to be understanding of many viewpoints when it comes to newcomers, but some people are just really out of touch.

An online petition was made to try and encourage the owner of Prime 6 to consider NOT hiring hip hop acts but rather “indie” acts—whatever that means. A petition written supposedly by a concerned Park Slope resident named Jennifer McMillen who only wanted to try and mediate tensions between the neighborhood and Prime 6. What she wound up doing, however, was creating an even bigger mess by pouring all kinds of salt into the wound.

Firstly, McMillen describes herself as a long-time Slope resident (since 1998) and she says that “there’s no single type of establishment (or type of bar/club patron for that matter) that Park Slopers would inherently view as ‘undesirable.'” Of course she backs this up right away by saying we can all probably agree that “Park Slopers are about the least ‘racist’ people on the planet.” The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Already, if you’re at all racially or socially conscious, this spells disaster. She’s already referred obliquely to the potential bar in a way that let you know that its patrons would be seen as “other” or outsiders in the neighborhood. Then, by way of denying its connection, she connects this directly and immediately to race!  It’s like she couldn’t help but tell the truth even as she tried to hide it.

She goes on to explain that the real trouble with Prime 6 is that Park Slope has become a more “family-oriented and family-centric community”—which she then deprecates in pseudo-hip understanding—and that the violence associated with hip hop music is not compatible with that growing trend. She follows through on that argument by asserting it is “not racist to ‘equate’ hip hop with elevated crime rates” and that her “African American friends and colleagues” would likely be the first to agree with that assessment. That crime is simply more likely to occur among “urban audiences” than among audiences of what she quaintly refers to as “other demographics.” I mean she is stepping HARD around uncomfortable ideas there in order to seem balanced and non-judgmental.

Couple of problems, though. Sure Park Slope—as even I have said—has become a more family-oriented community by some standards. I mean certainly in the eyes of mainstream culture.  But, um, there were always families in Park Slope. And those families were also interested in doing family things and being family-oriented. It’s not like Park Slope was simply a nest of depravity and decay until a decade ago when white people from Manhattan discovered it. She means that Park Slope is now a community that is defined by its obsessions with modern family-hood. That the commoditization of things like motherhood and child development and—indeed—Brooklyn-ness have been perpetrated there of late. That instead of simply being a Brooklyn community of a certain type it has also become a sort of caricature of itself. And in that respect, perhaps there may be a heavy-handed bias against something as raw—for lack of a better word—as hip hop.

Secondly, can we really equate hip hop with elevated crime rates? I’m not even sure how to unpack that statement without being pretty mean. You’d have to be pretty out of touch with hip hop as a community, as an art form, and as a culture to think that you can reduce the music down to what McMillen eventually calls a “violent history.” And what Brooklynite can use the term “urban audiences” without gagging on the words? Let alone then refer to some nebulous—but benign!—”other audiences.”

Thirdly, I’m not sure what indie music McMillen is referring to in her petition. Rock music? Folk music? Pop music? Ecstatic free-jazz?! What indie music?! Or does it not matter, so long as it doesn’t attract an unsavory clientele?

There’s a certain strange, too-easy disconnectedness about McMillen’s petition. She refers to R&B and rap as her favorite kinds of music, but then turns around and calls them “processed, commercial noise” in comparison to her championed indie music.  She makes a big deal about saying no particular kind of club would be considered a bad fit for Park Slope, but then calls Prime 6 “another Yo MTV Raps ‘bling-bling’ vip  club.” She never makes an outright case that there might be a racial element tied to the uproar over the club, but she does insinuate that hip hop is inherently violent and attracts a criminal element.

While no reliable news sources have been able to find Ms. McMillen and there have been insinuations that perhaps the petition itself is some sort of elaborate hoax, that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s gotten something like 900 signatures online! Clearly whoever McMillen is, she’s struck a nerve. She is speaking for some demographic that feels it is being wronged by the introduction of Prime 6 to the neighborhood. So the questions remains: who will win out here? Is this to be the line in the sand for Park Slope and hip hop? Is there really a community in Brooklyn—in Brooklyn!—that is going to make a collective move to ban hip hop from its streets? Whatever the story with McMillen and Park Slope, it could be that this little storm is but the initial tremor of an even greater culture clash coming down the line.

Apparently, for those who support McMillen, it’s a question of a “vibrant artistic hub” versus a club that merely exists to serve “Henessey [sic]/etc to basketball fans after a Nets game.” For me, it is a question of Brooklyn’s ongoing identity crisis: in the moment it may seem like a victory for the family-oriented Park Slopers who signed this petition, but in the long run simply running off any hint of “urban culture” is not going to erase the historical context of Brooklyn. What will this do to us in the long run? Are we growing, incorporating, and changing? Or are we beginning to fracture?

Brooklyn waits with bated breath.

6 Responses
  1. March 16, 2011

    Some things:

    -There is no such thing as indie hip-hop.
    -There are no families that like hip-hop.
    -Not only aren’t Park Slopers racist, not only are they about the least racist people on the planet, and not only is it difficult for anyone to deny the truth of the assertion that Park slopers are about the least racist people on the planet, but Park Slopers are so un-racist that it’s only appropriate to note the difficulty of denying the truth of the assertion that they’re about the least racist people on the planet if you put inverted commas around “racist,” in order to highlight the outlandishness of denying the truth of the assertion that they are about the least “racist” people on the planet.

    Just, y’know, for the record.

    • akiebermiss permalink
      March 16, 2011

      Um… Cosign.

      Also, I forgot to mention that as an artistic African american male in an interracial relationship with dreadlocks and glasses that I expect to be the Mayor of Park Slope one day. Gonna kiss all those biracial babies, shake all the baristas’ hands, and play indie-rap music from the back of Prius-wagon.

  2. Daniele permalink
    March 16, 2011

    “Instead of focussing [sic] on hip-hop and urban entertainment, what if Prime 6 embraced some of the more indie local artists of ALL races who live and perform in the area.”

    I really hope this whole thing is a joke, but I doubt whoever wrote this petition is that clever. First off, the hip hop genre does not exclude people of any race. It’s not a gang, it’s an art form, so she needs to stop talking nonsense. Also, Brooklyn is urban, so why is she worried about this club attracting an urban audience? We live in New York City, technically all the five boros are urban. Would she prefer a suburban audience? A rural audience? I don’t get it. Technically any entertainment taking place in Brooklyn is urban entertainment. I don’t care if it’s a mime, a break-dance circle, or a clown making balloon animals. Maybe she means something else when she says “urban”…here let me go to Wikipedia for a second:

    Urban means “related to cities.”
    It may refer to:
    Urban, California, former town in El Dorado County
    Urban area, geographical area distinct from rural areas
    Urban (name), given name and surname
    Urban (newspaper), Danish free daily newspaper
    Urban Records, record label
    Urban culture, the culture of towns and cities.

    African-American:
    Urban culture, North American euphemism for contemporary African American culture
    Urban contemporary, an African American music radio format
    Mainstream urban
    Urban adult contemporary

    It may also refer to the following popes:
    Saint Urban I
    Urban II
    Urban III
    Urban IV
    Urban V
    Urban VI
    Urban VII
    Urban VIII

    Well, she can’t possibly be talking about African Americans, because she explicitly stated that she is not racist. Obviously she wants to keep out all those damn popes–you know how violent they can get.

    • akiebermiss permalink
      March 17, 2011

      wow, Danielle. I like it. I never considered before how, if i wanted to have a hardcore rap handle, i should call myself Pope Urban the Fifth. that would be hot. but it sure as heck wouldn’t fly in Park Slope… that’s where the indie music scene is thriving. and we all know there are few establishment LESS indie than the Catholic Church.

  3. March 17, 2011

    On the real, though, Ak: Cotton Comes to Harlem is Galt McDermott’s best non-Hair work. Say word.

    • akiebermiss permalink
      March 17, 2011

      Word up. Love that movie. Love the score. Ossie Davis directing, right? Coulda been a remake with Bernie Mac… I’m telling you…

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