Can music lovers mix? Rappers, rock fans, racism

Vile racist abuse of Lethal Bizzle at the Download Festival has led the rapper to ask why hip-hop has not been accepted by mainstream festival audiences in the UK. By Jerome Taylor
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The Independent Culture

One of Britain's most successful hip-hop stars has revealed he was subjected to racist abuse by fans who pelted him with missiles during his appearance at a rock festival last weekend.

Lethal Bizzle, a Mobo-winning black rapper who once called David Cameron a "donut" for blaming youth violence on rap music, had to perform his set at the annual Download Festival on Sunday under a constant shower of objects, including bottles thrown by the crowd who appeared to dislike his inclusion in an otherwise predominantly heavy metal line-up.

But some of the items thrown at him had clearly racist overtones, including a cuddly toy monkey and a banana skin which he said had the words "Bizzle you black cunt" written on it.

Yesterday, Bizzle hit out at the racists and claimed that some "hard questions" had to be asked about why urban music has struggled to be accepted by mainstream festival goers.

The 24-year-old grime star, who was born to Ghanaian parents and grew up in Walthamstow, east London, initially declined to talk about the racist abuse but has decided to urge festival-goers to be more accepting of urban acts appearing at events which have traditionally featured more guitar-driven music. "The bottles I could deal with but the racist abuse was totally unacceptable," he said. "I know it was just a small minority of fans and I'm trying not to paint all rock fans with the same brush, but some hard questions need to be asked. If you don't like my music, don't come watch me. But my background or race has absolutely nothing to do with who I am as an artist."

Bizzle also plays a major part in the so-called "grindie" scene, a mix of grime and indie, which combines rapping with punk and rock samples.

His comments come amid a year of controversy over the reaction of some festival fans to an increase of hip-hop acts appearing at mainstream festivals such as Glastonbury and Reading. In February, the Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher created a storm of debate when he suggested that the inclusion of the US rapper Jay-Z in this year's Glastonbury line-up was wrong because it went against the festival's tradition of guitar music.

The behaviour of the small group of fans at Download will raise fears among Glastonbury's organisers that Jay-Z may be subjected to similar abuse when he headlines the last day of next week's annual festival. In 2004, fans at Reading Festival made their feelings known about the rapper 50 Cent by resorting to a similar salvo of bottles. Several comments on internet forums popular with rock fans are already promising to give Jay-Z a similar welcome to the one Lethal Bizzle received last weekend. One fan writing under the name "Doherty49" on the NME website said: "Jay Z beware because the same thing is gonna happen to you an [sic] Glastonbury".

Bizzle was the only hip-hop act on the bill at this year's Download Festival, which predominantly caters for the heavier end of the rock scene. As soon as his troupe walked on stage at Donington Park in Derbyshire on Sunday afternoon, they were pelted with bottles. He continued his 30-minute set but was visibly taken aback by the reception, shouting at the crowd: "We got set up didn't we? But we're still gonna play."

Online videos showing the latter stages of his set show that the number of bottles landing on stage died down as people began to be won over by the music. But he said he paid more attention to some of the cruder objects that were thrown.

"There were bottles flying everywhere but I just decided to carry on with the show," he said. "Just before my last song I noticed a banana skin on the ground. I picked it up and read what was inside and just thought 'Oh my God'. I didn't want to make a big deal about it and just threw it down, but the rest of my band were fuming. It was a really sad end to the show because I really felt like we'd worked the crowd."

Hattie Collins, editor of the hip-hop magazine RWD, believes the reception at Download was an extreme illustration of how rock and metal enthusiasts are often dismissive of urban music. "I'm not sure why it is but for some reason it seems to be OK for rock fans to be dismissive about hip-hop music – it's like hip-hop has become this acceptable punchbag," she said. "I'm sure that those throwing the bottles were just a small number in the crowd, but you have to ask yourself whether there is an underlying ethic that rock is somehow a white-only genre."

James McMahon, festivals editor at NME, said he believed most fans were simply expressing their dislike of Bizzle's music. "You have to separate racism – which is always totally unacceptable – from just disliking hip-hop, which is allowed," he said.

A number of rock and metal fans have since rallied to Bizzle's cause. One fan called Jonni wrote on the rapper's MySpace page: "I'm not joking when I say that you were one of the highlights of the festival. Just was a shame that some narrow-minded people have to put a downer on it."

Bizzle, meanwhile, said fans of guitar-based festivals would have to get used to seeing more urban acts appearing on the bill. "In a few years, urban acts will be all over mainstream festivals – it's just a matter of time," he said. "It is early days, so some people are a little resistant to change – but they will just have to put up and shut up."

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