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A New Documentary Offers an In-Depth Look at D.C.’s Thriving Hip Hop Scene

Hip Hop

Photo by Rodrigo Villordo

There’s a lot of movement happening in D.C.’s hip hop scene right now, but that progress isn’t always recognized outside the area. Looking to spotlight the city’s best emcees to a wider audience, two record labels have joined forces to present a new documentary called the DMV.

“Our primary intention was to shed light on the DMV music scene as a whole, as there seem to be a lot of disconnected movements taking place at once, each of which has generated a substantial buzz within the area but rarely outside of its territory,” said director Undine Markus, who also runs the London-based label Noble People.

The documentary is a wide-eyed look at the city’s burgeoning hip hop scene, featuring up-and-coming rappers like Phil Ade, Jay IDK, Chaz French, Innanet James and Lightshow, in addition to industry insiders like House Studio owner Yudu Gray. Markus came into the project with an outsider’s perspective on D.C.’s music scene, having only set foot in the area after conceptualizing the documentary. Her partner on the project–and co-founder of D.C.-based label Fête Records, Abhimanyu Janamanchi–introduced her to many of the featured people in the film.

“Although I had been following the likes of GoldLink, Jay IDK, Phil Ade, and Innanet James from distance, I had failed to piece it all together and see that they’ve originated from the same area,” Markus said. “Here, in the UK, only NYC, LA and Atlanta are viewed as the musical meccas of the US. I find that often the talent operating outside those scenes gets covered in a highly isolated manner that focuses on their individual journey, often downplaying the role of their local community and context.”

One of the main topics discussed in the documentary is go-go and its impact on hip hop culture. “If there’s one thing that I can guarantee you will not change in D.C., it’s go-go,” D.C. hip hop producer Mikeyy notes in the film. “It’s embedded into these musicians’ DNAs, it runs deep.”

The film also touches on the official sound (or lack thereof) of the city’s hip hop scene. “Like Atlanta, you can be like: they got trap. Chicago, you can be like: they got drill. New York was real boom-bap. We so new, D.C. didn’t have a real rapper until Wale,” James mentioned in the documentary. But, as the film suggests, this lack of cohesiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but an example of how the music landscape is shifting.

“We hope that to at least some extent, the conversations we’ve had throughout the documentary might inspire the collectives as well as the emerging talent in the area to join forces and promote the DMV scene as a whole,” Markus says.

The next phase of the project will re-examine the D.C. music scene once again, this time through a more personal and narrowly-focused lens. In the meantime, you can watch the entire DMV documentary via YouTube.