What does hip-hop mean to you? How has it changed your life? For most of us who love this thing called hip-hop, we have taken it far beyond the music, it has become engrained in our beings, a way of life, an inspiration. For those of us who push the culture forward, hip-hop is our calling. When you think of hip-hop you think of rappers, poets and artists alike. But what about the people behind the scenes? The videographers, writers and event producers who help bring to life the embodiment of hip-hop.
For CEO and President of Captivate Marketing Group, Yvonne McNair, her voice and creativity has not only pushed the culture forward but preserved it. Working with some of the biggest hip-hop artists to ever touch a mic, from Dougie Fresh, MC Light and Naughty By Nature to Slick Rick and Wyclef Jean to name a few. The 2x Emmy nominated event producer has paved her own lane in an industry that lacks representation behind the scenes.
McNair began her career as a young mother determined to show her son and the world there are no limits to fulfilling your dreams. Starting off in public relations and then moving into concert production.
“I started as a PA in concert production doing things for free, I was following people shadowing people learning the business. I always wanted to work in the music industry, so I had to figure out that path for myself and that’s when I moved into production.”
After paying her dues, McNair set forth on her own journey building trust and relationships throughout the industry, becoming a voice behind the scenes in preserving black culture and music. From producing Prince’s residency at City Winery in New York to his posthumous tribute at Essence Festival, McNair’s creativity and hard work has allowed her to not only build a stellar list of clienteles but a reputation that proves she has solidified her role in the music industry.
Although her resume is impressive, McNair admits the journey to greatness in a white male dominated industry hasn’t been easy.
“I’ve created history many times but still feel that I have to prove myself. As a Black Woman being taken seriously sometimes it’s really challenging in a white male dominated industry. Sometimes I can feel defeated, but I’m also very motivated. When things get tough, I remind myself who I am. I hype myself up and I push through” says McNair.
After 20 years in the game, McNair is reaching new heights as the curator of her very own festival “Harlem Festival of Culture”. The festival which takes place July 28th-30th , will feature some of Harlem’s brightest stars such as Cam’ron and Mase and headliners Ferg and Teyanna Taylor. In addition, the festival will give local Black owned businesses the opportunity to purchase a vendor slot at the 3-day event.
“Every artist headlining is important to Harlem. I wanted to make sure the festival felt like a love letter to Harlem in sense of having Harlem artists that have gone on to become national icons.”
The music industry often lacks Black representation in ownership. Festivals are no different. “Harlem Festival of Culture” is not only bringing representation to the forefront, but it is also shedding light on a part of Harlem history that was once lost.
“Harlem Cultural Festival” was the first festival for Black artists in Harlem. Nicknamed “The Black Woodstock”, the festival brought out more than 300,000 people during the summer of 1969.
From B.B. King to Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder the festival, which took place during the civil rights movement, gave Black people a chance to enjoy life while also empowering the movement. According to history.com, creator Tony Lawrence had to overcome some challenges in curating the festival. “It had taken a lot of effort for the festival creator, Tony Lawrence, to persuade agents and artists representatives to allow these acts to perform in the heart of Harlem, the symbolic capital of Black urban life which had seen riots in 1967 and looting after Dr. Kings Murder in 1968.”
Attendees of “Harlem Festival of Culture” will not only leave having enjoyed some good food and music, but they will also leave knowing they have become a part of Harlem history. The festival much like the original, is a representation of Black Excellence. A message to the outsiders who wish to be a part of Harlem. Harlem is and will forever be the “Black Mecca”.
As for McNair, she is gearing up to make history. With Harlem quickly becoming more and more gentrified, like most of the work McNair has done, this too will preserve the rich African American culture in a borough that has undergone some vast changes throughout the years. A Black Woman who by example is leading the way for a newer generation of voices to not only preserve the culture but push it forward. Not bad for a little girl from Chicago, who fell in love with hip-hop when she heard LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” and made it her career path.
“When I look at the journey, sometimes I really get emotional, especially when my son was younger, getting up, getting him to school, going to work, coming home and then going to school myself. Doing all these things where people didn’t think I could do because I had him young, them not thinking I would graduate and then I got three degrees! I’m very thankful, I’m thankful when I go into a space because I know I’m producing in spaces people dream of. I’m thankful that I have the reputation I do and I am trusted.”
To purchase tickets to Harlem Festival of Culture log onto harlemfestivalofculture.com