Shawn Edwards and Don Juan host live panel on 50th anniversary of KC hip-hop

Mark your calendars for June 2's "A Night with Shawn Edwards & Don Juan: Growing up Hip-Hop in Kansas City"
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Don Juan and Shawn Edwards. // Courtesy photos

Summer 2023 marks a half-century of hip-hop music as an integral part of Kansas City’s DNA. Music producer Don Juan and culture writer Shawn Edwards are running a free event at the 2000 Vine Building as the first in a series of retrospectives the community will host in celebration.

“A Night with Shawn Edwards & Don Juan: Growing up Hip-Hop in Kansas City” will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 2. Registration for free tickets can be found here.

The event will honor 50 years of KC hip-hop by educating attendees about its grassroots through an “uncut oral history” of how the culture has grown and transformed the lives of community members.

“The only way you could experience hip-hop was in person, like in people’s basements that have been turned into clubs and, like, had no curfew. They played music all night—maybe up in there five, six in the morning,” says Edwards. “It was cool.”

“That’s how I got popular,” says Don Juan. “So my name was floating around as a DJ. And then I started to make beats and pass out tapes. And from there, it started from the neighborhood.”

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Tech N9ne & Don Juan in 1999. // Courtesy photo

While KC is known nationally for its contributions to jazz, similar musical respect has never been carved out for local hip-hop culture. Edwards took on the responsibility of writing about hip-hop in local papers to compensate for its lack of representation.

“If you were a part of the hip-hop community from 1995-2001, I wrote about it,” says Edwards. “So I started producing hip-hop shows. And I mean, one thing led to another, so that’s why we’re doing this event.”

Don Juan produced music for Kansas City’s own Tech N9ne and California rappers like E-40 and Crooked I. Now that Don Juan is nationally recognized for his work, he still pays tribute to the Raytown community and others on the block who helped spread his name.

“[Hip-hop] was youthful, so it was exciting. I learned a lot, which allowed me to become a professional. So that’s what I love about working with locals; I was able to get the experience to be able to go to Los Angeles to a number one market—a big market—and be as good as those guys. I feel like Kansas City helped me shape that.”

Edwards is nationally recognized for his film critic work at Fox 4 News Kansas City and has written for national hip-hop magazines, including The Source, XXL, and Vibe. He was also an instrumental part of The Pitch’s scene coverage, dating back to the early aughts.

“Growing up in Kansas City, how we got hip-hop was through word of mouth. We didn’t get it from the radio. Radio stations wouldn’t even support hip-hop at one time,” says Don Juan.

“That’s one of the topics we’re going to touch on—Kansas City radio has always had a pensive attitude toward hip-hop. The culture was never fully embraced by commercial radio,” says Edwards.

Hot 103 Jamz is a Black-owned and operated radio broadcast on which Don Juan produced a radio show in 2004 called The Boiling Point, hitting at just the right time to have a significant impact on the expansion of the form in local markets.

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“That’s when the scene of hip-hop really started to open up,” says Don Juan. “That allowed it to reach a broader radius of people, you know, on the outskirts—white people. Once we were getting radio play, and we were in the club, and playing in the streets—it was hip-hop, Kansas City hip-hop.”

In trying to pin down what makes KC hip-hop distinctive, the answer is complicated.

“If you had to answer that question, the Kansas City sound did lean a certain way, and it tended toward West Coast hip-hop—particularly the sound out of the Bay. And the reason is the drug trade, because of the crack epidemic,” says Edwards. “They record stuff off the radio on cassettes, or they bring back mixtapes off the street back to Kansas City. To be honest, many record stores here in Kansas City weren’t getting the good stuff yet because the distribution models just weren’t receptive to that. So you got it through your cousin or your neighbor.”

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Edwards and Don Juan have high hopes for what the public can gain from June’s symposium.

“I just want them to have fun and learn about the culture. What I don’t like about the culture of people who like our culture—they’re halfway in it, and they don’t understand us,” says Don Juan. “We could just go on forever, but I want people to embrace the culture a little bit more and understand why the violence is there, why it’s so street—’cause that’s the way it started.”

“Plus, it’s important to document history,” says Edwards. “God forbid something happened to us, and we’re no longer around, and all this information is whoomph—in heaven. It’s fascinating. The city needs to celebrate all the contributions to help promote the town.”

“A Night with Shawn Edwards & Don Juan: Growing Up Hip-Hop in Kansas City” will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 2 at 2000 Vine St., Kansas City, MO 64108. Registration for free tickets here. For more updates on their projects, follow Edwards on Instagram and Twitter, and check out Don Juan’s work on his website and Twitter.

Categories: Culture