Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of a local music blog. The blog is called True Genius Requires Insanity.
At DMV Awards, violence mars a hopeful moment for the Washington hip-hop scene

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2011; 8:12 PM

As Saturday night's DMV Awards passed the halfway mark, things weren't going smoothly.

An estimated 1,500 artists, promoters, bloggers and fans had crammed into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City for the fifth annual awards ceremony celebrating the area's burgeoning hip-hop scene. But not everyone had a seat. Some had already had too much to drink. And as the ceremony wore on, losing factions began booing the winners.

At about 9:45 p.m., witnesses say it turned ugly. During a program intermission, a fight errupted between two crews, quickly spiraling into a full-scale brawl in the hotel atrium. Witnesses said that between 20 and 60 people were involved in the altercation. Punches were thrown. Bottles were broken. Tables were flipped.

One fan videotaped the fray - you can watch it on YouTube - while others dialed 911. In a few short minutes, an evening dedicated to recognizing the unprecedented growth of the Washington-area hip-hop community had unraveled into chaos.

"The idea was to bring people together, and this is so sad," said Natasha Brown, the event's publicist. "It took us back in a year where we were really moving forward."

Organizers issued a statement on their website Sunday afternoon. "This community is comprised of thousands from Baltimore to northern Virginia who love to make music and support the artists who do so," the statement read. "It was in this spirit that the DMV Music Awards were created five years ago, and in this spirit, the 'DMV' will continue to move forward in the efforts to share great work with the worldwide community of music fans."

Promoter Dre All Day in the Paint said that while it may be hard to find a venue, the event will take place again next year. "I'm not going to allow one bad incident to taint the whole project," he said.

Details about what triggered the fight remain blurry, but by the time Arlington police had ordered the crowd home, five people had been sent to the hospital with injuries, including one hotel employee. No arrests were made.

For local hip-hop and go-go fans, the story is sadly familiar. Washington's go-go scene has struggled with nightclub violence for years - so much so that District Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier established a weekly "go-go report" targeting venues where conflict was expected to break out. Last year, Love, the city's leading hip-hop nightclub, closed for more than three months after a non-fatal stabbing took place inside the venue.

Saturday night's incident feels particularly senseless for an ambitious music scene teeming with artists trying to create a national buzz.

"It's definitely a setback," said RA the MC, a local rapper who attended the awards and was scheduled to perform toward the end of the ceremony. "We have all these label heads and executives looking at us. The spotlight is on us and this is how we act?"

Ricky Parker, who helps manage RA, agrees. As the scene continues to grow more competitive, solidarity becomes more critical. "I'd say there are over 100 rappers in the DMV who are serious and really want to go to the next level," Parker said. "We're trying to be unified as an entity."

Saturday night's altercation hurts that effort. In recent years, "the DMV," (slang for the District, Maryland and Virginia), has been adopted as the namesake for a hip-hop scene that continues to produce a staggering amount of new talent. From Kingpen Slim to Fat Trel to Da Phuture to Phil Ade, more local rappers are being played on the radio than ever - and the fan base is growing.

As Saturday night's brawl dispersed, those fans bemoaned the bad news on Twitter with three other letters: SMH, short for "shaking my head." (One fan tweeted, "#DMV Awards have officially changed their name to #SMH Awards.")

Artists chimed in on Twitter, too. "Just heard about the DMV awards," tweeted Wale, Washington's most famous rapper. "DC hiphop took major steps last year . . . And now this. WE gotta do better."

On the blogosphere, the tone was angrier. "The "DMV" concept died at roughly 9:50 PM last night," local music blogger Marcus K. Dowling wrote on his Web site, True Genius Requires Insanity. "Last night's DMV Awards celebrated individuals, self aggrandizement, and a litany of self absorbed [nonsense] that shows Washington, DC as a second tier city that some first tier artists had the common sense to escape from."

And while Washington boasts a few nationally recognized hip-hop stars, most of them were out on the road Saturday. Wale and Grammy-nominated R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn were both in Charlotte, while rapper Tabi Bonney was on tour in Indianapolis.

"I'm really speechless," Bonney said when told about the incident. "I thought we were way past that . . . We have to get out of this 'crabs in a barrel' mentality. We should be happy for one another."

That mentality was immortalized in song back in 2009 by XO, whose mixtape single "Crabs In a Barrel" helped establish him as one of Washington's finest rappers.

"It's a small city and everybody knows everybody," said XO, who attended Saturday's awards ceremony. "You have rival crews or cliques . . . And everybody is fighting for the same thing, whether it's recognition, status, money . . . The problem is, we don't know how to work together to help each other."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company