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Juvenile drew crowds to NC festival, but not everyone liked what they heard

Rapper Juvenile
Rapper Juvenile AP

Some people who attended Saturday’s Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival are complaining about the explicit language and profanity used by rapper Juvenile during his headlining performance at the family-friendly event.

Juvenile is known for songs released in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, including “Back That A-- Up,” “Slow Motion” and “Ha.” He and the group Dru Hill headlined the 50th annual festival sponsored by the city of Durham’s Parks and Recreation Department and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

But while the city said it asked Juvenile to perform a “clean show,” the rapper didn’t follow through, according to people who attended the concert at Rock Quarry Park.

Cynthia Booth, a spokesperson for the parks department, said city staff were “very disappointed in his language” during the 30-minute set early Saturday evening.

“We told him it must be a clean show,” Booth told The News & Observer. “And he was told before he went on stage by staff, as well as somebody told him while he was up there.”

A booking contact for Juvenile said he couldn’t respond to questions Sunday night about the show.

Paul Scott, a Durham minster and activist, said in a video posted to his Facebook page that people didn’t expect Juvenile “to have a squeaky clean show.” Scott said artists have used profanity in their festival performances before but it was “minimal.”

Juvenile, however, went too far with his extensive use of profanity and sexually charged language, Scott said in his video. It wasn’t appropriate at a free community event attended by young children, he said, and he had expected a radio-friendly version of his music.

“If you’re at the club you expect that,” he said in his video, referring to Juvenile’s language. “Some of the mothers looked disgusted.”

Others posted videos on social media of crowds enjoying the show and singing along to Juvenile’s performance.

About 15,000 people attended the daylong event, Booth said.

Durham activist Jackie Wagstaff, a former City Council member, said the longer Juvenile was on stage, “the more vile his lyrics got.”

“To the point that folks started grabbing their kids and leaving,” she said in an interview Sunday with The News & Observer.

The festival was started in 1969 by a group of African American students from from Duke University and North Carolina Central University, along with community members. The first Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival was held in Duke Gardens.

The festival is “a celebration of African and African American history, culture, arts and traditions,“ according to the Durham Parks and Recreation’s website.

Saturday’s event came at the end of a week of Bimbe-related events, including a community block party and 5k. It featured Durham artists and honored local heroes, including former Mayor Bill Bell and former school board member Omega Parker. The festival had a range of educational presentations and activities, including an area for children’s activities and an African American quilting circle.

Juvenile, whose real name is Teruis Gray, is a New Orleans-based rapper who once was a member of hip-hop group Hot Boys. “Reality Check,” his seventh album, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week in 2006. He recently has collaborated with Birdman for the new album, “Just Another Gangsta,” and they released a video last week for their song, “Broke.”

Booth said she is getting more information about actions city officials took after Juvenile was on stage. But it was a “disappointment” at the end of a day of successes.

“The day went so well,” Booth said. “We put in hours of work, and for him to come up and not do what we specified, was disappointing.”

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.
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