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When local awards shows are controversial, it’s usually for fairly unserious reasons. Not so this March at the Crystal City Hyatt Regency Hotel, where the fifth annual DMV Awards erupted into a series of brawls that sent one hotel employee to the hospital with an injured eye. While the cause of the fights is still unclear, they shed an embarrassing light on the local hip-hop scene, which has produced one star and a small cadre of up-and-comers, but still isn’t seen nationally as a hotbed of talent. Still, the DMV is competitive, as evidenced by this year’s WKYS-FM “hottest rappers” poll, which, perhaps in order to avoid an anti-climax, eliminated Wale from contention.

So the DMV Awards debacle, made even more embarrassing because it was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, raised a big question mark about the scene’s cohesiveness—a strange thing, since the term “DMV” came about as an expression of collective chest-thumping. During a community meeting following the awards ceremony, producer and blogger Judah said unity is impossible; instead, DMV rappers can only hope to co-exist. After that, the debate faded, but it’ll rev up again as the 2012 event nears. While the organizers seem blameless, they should make a few changes—less reliance on alcohol sponsors, to start. They should also enforce a dress code. It’s hard to fight in a three-piece suit.