Beats n Bars is ready to grow but wants to keep that hometown Durham feeling

Cyhi the Prynce will perform as past of Beats n Bars.
Cyhi the Prynce will perform as past of Beats n Bars. Courtesy of World Star Agency

If you’re interested in seeing the best hip-hop the Triangle has to offer, may we suggest heading to downtown Durham this weekend for the second annual Beats n Bars Festival?

“We created it to be a space to have a main stage for hip-hop in North Carolina,” says founder/CEO Crystal Taylor. “And we wanted it to be a space that produces DJs. And MCs could be able to come together and have a bigger platform, instead of just the standard shows at small venues.”

Taylor says last year’s festival brought in 400 people, and that was just when the fest only had The Pinhook as its live venue and a few sponsors backing them. She hopes attendance will expand by a thousand, especially now that other venues have entered the fold, including Lot 20 (which will have both live performances and b-boy dance sets) and American Underground (which will host panel discussions, roundtables and podcast recordings).

“We have over 30 sponsors, including three major corporate sponsors,” says Taylor. “So I think that being able to create it last year and make it look substantial, from the numbers that we had from the turnout, was really impressive. So that’s where we are.”

The two-day festival also has joined forces with Durham rapper John Laww (aka The Real Laww), who’s been doing his own Bull City hip-hop fest, titled the DURM Hip-Hop Summit, since 2012.

“We wanted to merge our worlds primarily,” Taylor says, “because he was already doing the Summit on a yearly basis and I’ve been doing the shows every month in some kind of capacity, whether it was a beat battle or a MC showcase like ‘Yo! NC Raps’ or panel discussions. So, it just made a lot of sense for us, instead of competing, to join forces to expand the culture here.”

Laww, who also will be performing at the fest, said it’s much simpler for him to pair up with Beats n Bars, especially since the last Summit, held in 2015, lacked in attendance.

“To be honest, the Summit was more at a local level, with the name ‘DURM’ in its title,” says Laww. “But with Beats n Bars, it can be nationally recognized but still keep that hometown feel.”

While the headliners – Cyhi the Prynce, Nick Grant and female rapper Nitty Scott – are all out-of-towners, Taylor says 95 percent of the 36 acts expected to perform are locally based. These performers are culled from open submissions that were sent to festival organizers.

“People are still sending their music, which is totally cool, because we still listen to all the submissions,” says Taylor, who added that she and Laww curated the festival’s performance lineup.

Of course, the folks behind Beats n Bars want spectators – whether they’re hardcore hip-hop heads or curious neophytes – to show up and get a better grasp of what hip-hop is and what it means.

“I think that because of some of the stigma that’s floating around, people don’t necessarily know or understand it and think that it’s a positive attribute,” Taylor said. “And I want people to be able to come to the festival in all walks of life – all colors, shades and forms. I want them to be able to collaborate and make new friendships and partnerships, and I want them to be able to learn something, especially from the panels.

“I just want people to be able to come together, off the note of hip-hop culture,” she adds. “Because it’s a lifestyle – it’s not necessarily a thing or just music. It’s just a way of life, and I want people to be able to be educated and entertained and take something from it – to be moved.”


What: Beats n Bars Festival

When: Sept. 22 and 23. Doors open for shows and the conference at various times.

Where: The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham; American Underground @ Main, 201 W. Main St., Durham.

Cost: $45-$65

Info: beatsnbarsfestival.com