When entertainment publicist Leasah Sparks noticed that artists were giving back during the pandemic by providing art for social justice events, volunteering their efforts, or just keeping the community’s spirits up, she looked for ways to give something back to them. “Since the pandemic, we’ve reunited for protests and mourning,” she said, “but I think we need to rechannel that energy and think about the creators who are stuck at home.”
The pandemic has made traditional avenues of arts promotion difficult, especially for music and fashion. “We have to reinvent how we are presenting our artists,” said Sparks.
As an entertainment publicist, Sparks works with independent artists around the region — shuttling between Worcester and New York. She reached out to her network of artists from both areas and the concept for the Black Excellence Artist Showcase was born.
Artists performing at the Feb. 20 event include Worcester’s hip-hop artist and social media influencer Big Nate, Brockton’s battle rapper and mentor of Champion City Mentor Group, Xcel, 978 Founder Ms.Choppa and Webster’s hip-hop artist Rice. DJ Reckless and Mr. CEO from Troy, New York, are also listed.
Over the years, the sound of the hip-hop genre has shifted, according to Sparks. What some remember from the '90s is very different from the “new-age” hip-hop, as Sparks calls it, that has recently gained popularity. The artist showcase will have representatives from both camps, presenting an opportunity to “merge the new age sound with what hip-hop was.”
Referring to a larger effort by the company to merge younger and older hip-hop audiences from different cultural scenes under one banner, Sparks said, “I’m really excited with what Str8up has done.”
Jimmy Kang, the founder and CEO of Str8up Entertainment Inc., also suggested a fashion show. “He said, ‘How about we fuse some models coming down the runway while artists are performing?" The models will be displaying the work of local fashion designer Wavvznewage.
Emmanuel Carboo, founder of Wavvznewage, was supposed to go to New York Fashion Week last week but an emergency forced him to cancel. Luckily, he received a call from Kang with a local alternative. “It worked out perfectly,” said Carboo, who goes by Qlynton, and has been running Wavvznewage for the past six years but recently also joined Str8up Entertainment as a fashion designer. At Exclusives Music Meets Fashion clothing store, 39 Pleasant St., Carboo’s brand specializes in customized shirts, jackets, hoodies and more, often drawing inspiration from his family’s roots in Ghana.
Produced by Jay Hunt of Smokehouse Media, the event will take place at 554 Main Street, across the street from The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts. The building is owned by the Menkiti Group, which is also sponsoring the event and offers maker space for small businesses. The showcase is intended to bring this new maker space the attention of Worcester’s wider creative community, “where we can develop up-and-coming creators in the area,” said Sparks.
The Black Excellence Artist Showcase is not only spotlighting artistic talent in Worcester’s Black community and the new WAC building, but represents a major step in Sparks’ own career as an entertainment publicist. “This is bigger than anything I’ve done before,” she said.
Though it will be live-streamed on Hip Hop Magazine’s Instagram Live account, Kang has secured permits from the city for a limited in-person attendance. Those tuning in online will be able to vote for their favorite artists, said Sparks. The top performers will receive a record deal with Str8up, but there are a number of other prizes available which will be given away through a raffle, including staging space at Exclusives Meets Fashion Clothing Store and 10 hours studio time.
“We want to make sure everyone can walk away with something,” said Sparks.
The Black Excellence Artist Showcase is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 20 at 554 Main St. Go to https://www.eventbrite.com. Viewers can also watch it live on Hip Hop Weekly Magazine’s Instagram. Sponsored by Str8up Entertainment Group Inc., Cortney Truex of the Menkiti Group and the City Of Worcester.