A decade ago, lovers of soul and hip-hop in Kansas City would gather on Sunday nights at a greasy downtown dive bar to listen to DJ’s and eat hot wings. MCs would spit rhymes and pretty soon a break-dancing circle would form.
Fast forward to 2016, and some of those people, plus a whole new crew, have joined in on a similar event. But now it’s in the afternoon and involves a lot more crayons.
A block away from 39th street in the Volker neighborhood, music pours out of the MO Brew pub. Windows are wide open on a warm May day, and families are spilling out onto the sidewalk: babies, teens and toddlers mixing it up with the grown-ups.
“This is how to learn the culture,” says Necia Gamby. “This is how the culture’s been passed on, forever.”
With her long silver dreadlocks, Gamby knows a thing or two about raising up a scene. Her kids are grown now – she just had a grandchild – but when they were young, her house was the place where her children’s friends learned the basics of DJing and audio engineering.
“There are a lot of hip-hop heads that have children, and they are really family-oriented and they are bringing their children up in the hip-hop culture and they want to share that culture with their children,” Gamby says. “This is the place to do that.”
Part of that culture is music, but there’s also painting, dance, wordsmithing and a philosophy. Once in a while, dancing breaks out on the crowded floor of the small bar. One of the stand-outs is a little b-boy who’s become famous to the under-10 set as “Flash.”
And to keep all those little hands busy when they’re not dancing, one of Kansas City’s pre-eminent street artists has provided coloring pages.
Partying with the family
May marked the one-year anniversary of the monthly event Soulful Sundays. According to DJ Ataxic and DJ Joc Max (who split the afternoon at the turntables), it didn’t start out as a family affair. The two veteran Kansas City DJs say they just wanted an opportunity to bring together friends and followers who too often see each other only on social media.
But then people started asking if they could bring their kids. And the bar owners were fine with it; after all, they serve food too.
Ataxic, Joc Max and Scribe all have kids now, ranging in age from 9 to 17, so they led the way.
“I can easily say this is my favorite gig that I’ve ever had – ever,” says Ataxic, otherwise known as Brian Fisk. He says it’s a dream to be able to squeeze it in between church and dinner.
“This is what we call Hip Hop and Hot Wings for old people,” says Fisk, talking about that weekly event in the early 2000s. “That was such a great time period for music here in Kansas City. We’ve all grown up, we’ve all moved on. To be able to still play music and enjoy each other’s company along with the full family, it’s amazing.”
Making memories around music
The artist Scribe – Donald Ross – says this monthly event is a way for him to introduce his sons to the music that inspired him as a young man.
“That was a heartbeat behind everything I did during my building-block years,” Ross says.
His work is all over midtown and downtown Kansas City: spray-painted murals of fantastical animals. Ross had his days as a renegade graffiti artist, but is now artist-in-resident at Children’s Mercy Hospital. How grown up is that?
He knows as much as anyone how hard it is to pass your music on to your children in a didactic way. But at an event, they can form a memory around it.
“At least I can share it with them on more of an experience level,” Ross says.
DJ Joc Max – Thomas McIntosh – can relate. He's the one whose daughter is now 17.
“Our lives as selectors and DJs were always so separate from our families,” McIntosh says. “For a change, why not have something where it can be all inclusive?”
Even his mom is here. She’s the one who inspired him to be a DJ in the first place. And now, another generation will have these memories to pass on, or reject, as the case may be.