About that Hobo Johnson protest

The rising rapper’s sold-out show got delayed by protestors accusing him of cultural appropriation. But can you blame them?

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and the author of SN&R’s The 420 weekly pot column.

So I was walking down R Street, headed to the sold-out Hobo Johnson concert, when I hear loud call-and-response chanting. “You steal from us?! We shut you down! You steal from us?! We shut you down!” As I get closer, I see a culturally diverse group of about 20 protestors standing in front of the Ace of Spades nightclub, chanting and holding signs that say things like “Gentrification is white supremacy!” and “Cultural appropriation is white supremacy!” So, I’m standing there thinking, But why are they protesting Hobo Johnson? From what I know, he’s a random nerdy dude who happens to be a halfway decent rapper, whose endearing YouTube videos (6.2 million views on his NPR Tiny Desk concert so far) have garnered a young, cute and mostly white following. At first, I didn’t get it. A quick perusal through social media (there was a Facebook invite for the protest. My, how times have changed) lays out the reasons: a local magazine called him the “Pride of Oak Park,” although he is originally from Loomis and has only lived in Oak Park for a few years. Seeing as Oak Park is being gentrified with a quickness, it makes sense that longtime residents would feel slighted that this kid from Loomis is emerging as the “face” of the “new” Oak Park. To some, it may seem like a small thing, but to others, it is just another symptom of the rapid changes taking place all over Sacramento and Oak Park in particular.

I talked to quite a few people waiting to see the show. One guy I talked to (young white dude, if it matters) was hella mad because he just wanted to smoke a little weed and enjoy a concert. He didn't want to have to deal with having to think about the effects of gentrification or cultural appropriation or any of that. Tough for him. Now, maybe he has to think about it. At least for a little while. Another young man (He told me he is half Native American, if that matters) was all for the protest. Not necessarily because he agreed with it, but because Americans have a fundamental right to protest, and who was he to get in the way of that? I agree with him. At this point, we probably need more protests. And as protests go, it was fairly mellow. The police didn't overreact, the management at Ace of Spades stayed calm and cool, the protesters made their point and the concert still took place, although it started a few hours later than scheduled.

So, I have been working through my feelings. First, I feel empathy for Hobo Johnson. I mean, he's just a young man that wants to make goofy rhymes and tour around playing music. He doesn't really have a P.R. team (He should probably get one ASAP), and he most likely doesn't know what to do about the controversy surrounding him. I totally get that. Second, I have hella empathy for the residents of Oak Park. It's not just that the Sacramento DA doesn't seem to care at all about police misconduct and unarmed civilians being shot to death by the cops, or that longtime residents have been priced out of the neighborhood, or that minority-owned businesses have been replaced by white businesses, but that no one in a position of authority seems to be doing anything to address these problems. So people have to protest. That's just how it is. Kings games get protested, the High Times Cup (which was awesome, by the way) gets protested, and the Hobo Johnson concert gets a protest. I have no problem with it. In fact, I support it.