Howard University’s Yardfest has become an embarrassment

Courtland Milloy
Columnist October 29, 2013

Mention the name Howard University, and “world-famous homecoming” probably comes to mind before “world-class studies.” So it was especially disappointing to see a rowdy crowd tarnish the school’s signature achievement by crashing the annual Yardfest hip-hop show.

Fest fans were plenty upset that Juicy J didn’t get to perform the Three 6 Mafia’s Oscar-winning song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” Migos didn’t get to do their breakout rap, either.

And they call Howard the “mecca” of historically black colleges and universities? Do they think that students make a pilgrimage there to pray? Or do they come to preen and party? Let’s be real.

Yardfest is not just some campus concert. It is a rite of passage for up-and-coming rap talent, an occasion for burnishing black culture, a time for rekindling artistic fires and passions by a new generation of black poets.

Thousands of students and visitors had gathered Friday on the school “Yard” in front of the grand Frederick Douglass Hall. Scheduled to perform was a lineup of rappers whose confrontational and competitive prose would have set Douglass, the great orator and abolitionist, on his heels.

Indeed, if the gate crashers hadn’t stopped the show, Yardfest headliner Bone Thugs-n-Harmony could have demolished Douglass’s claims about the sanctity of black life with its hit “Mo’ Murda.”

What could Douglass say to that? Obviously, nothing that would win over Howard Yardfest fans.

Maybe he would have read from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery,” the speech in which he deplored the violence loosed on blacks — “to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash . . . to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh . . .”

It’s the same violence that rapper A$AP Ferg, who was supposed to join Bone Thugs-n-Harmony on stage, celebrates in his breakout rap, “Work”:

“Put in work, put ’em in the dirt

“Semi gon’ squirt, damn he got murked.”

Too bad the party planners blew it, depriving the campus gathering of such a stimulating intellectual experience. It could have been a veritable classroom on the green — “Thug Life 101: Pimp My Civil Rights.”

Without letting hip-hop fans know in advance, they decided to erect a chain-link fence around the Yardfest site, limit the crowd to 14,000 (down from about 22,000 last year) and charge a $5 entrance fee for what had been a free and open show.

Hundreds who had been turned away stormed the gates. Eight people were injured, including two D.C. police officers.

To be fair, other homecoming events went off pretty much without a hitch.

There was a panel discussion, called the “Entertainment Power Summit,” hosted by someone named Charlamagne Tha God. So you know that had to be special.

This year’s fashion shows had a biblical theme: “Tempus: Eden to Exodus.” And although none of the models wore fig leaves, some did wear outfits made of sheer cloth that were somewhat revealing but far short of outrageous. Good for them.

Still, the success of these events could not make up for the Yardfest fiasco.

No one stormed the gates when Moody’s Investors Service recently reduced the school’s credit rating. Nor when the school’s academic ranking plunged in the latest U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” issue from 120 to 142.

“The school dropped from being in the top 100 in the 2010 edition to today’s position because its ranking scores in academic peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, student selectivity, faculty resources, alumni giving and graduation rate performance all fell relative to other schools in the National Universities rankings,” Robert Morse, director of data research, explained on U.S. News & World Report’s Web site.

Howard counters with claims on its Web site that the school “produces more African-American on-campus Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States.”

Which raises a question: If there are so many, why do so few lend financial support to the school?

Clearly, a bad credit score, poor academic ranking and low regard by alumni will not stop students from enrolling at Howard. But mess up another Yardfest, and don’t be surprised if their regard for the school starts to drop faster than a pair of drawers in a Juicy J rap song.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local