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An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.

Oh shit! My man Enoch 7th Prophet sent up the Bat Signal!

“Boycott Almaz Ethiopian Restaurant!” he declared recently in an online petition. Why?

The D.C. hip-hop veteran, stellar MC, and producer claim shady dealings. In an open letter he published on Facebook some weeks back, he offers his account of an experience that has led him, with conviction, to call for D.C. artists not to perform or produce events at Almaz Ethiopian Restaurant on U Street NW. Yes, it’s a restaurant. I’m actually not sure if it’s a permitted live-performance venue, but for sure Almaz accepts the “business” of aspiring artists who break their necks to produce shows in the space. I’ve done shows at Almaz in the past, and must say that my experience there as an artist has not been what it needs to be.

Almaz is a beautiful space, the hospitality from the staff can be a bit cold, and the sound system needs serious help—including a dedicated sound engineer. Professional artists performing in a venue that’s gonna make money off the people who come through the door to see them should not have to deal with the stresses of engineering their own shows. That’s what you get when you produce an event at Almaz, and many other establishments masquerading as performance spaces in Chocolate City these days. They want the money that the arts community can generate, but they don’t want to make the investment to provide the basic satisfactory conditions for producing arts events. Hordes of businesses are operating this way across the city! It’s a fucking pandemic that’s destroying the careers of passionate professional artists looking for outlets to showcase their material.

Enoch’s is a classic case where a verbal agreement is not being honored. According to his petition, Enoch agreed to pay a $300 guarantee for Almaz’s upstairs space and bar, but when a group offering more money to throw an event the same night as Enoch’s came along, Enoch’s show—a video-release party that would have also raised money to fight prostate cancer—was axed. Everyone’s first thought: “was there a contract involved?”  And the answer probably is “no” (though I have not asked Enoch this yet).

For some, that’s the end of the story. For me, it’s not. Enoch already had a working relationship with the club. He explains in his very well-written letter that he has even checked IDs at some of his Almaz events because the restaurant did not have that job covered. That’s called security, I believe, and it’s a paid position at every entertainment venue where alcohol is sold—and pays at least $10 an hour.  There are many other jobs that artists perform at establishments that actually should be included in their house operations budgets–the first being that of an on-site club promoter.

These venues are spending virtually zero advertising dollars, totally relying on our local artists to bring them clientele and revenue.  They aren’t paying for the upfront marketing and promotions work, and the artists are doing so out of pocket. The little bit of scratch made at the end of a show is not enough to compensate for the weeks of promotions it takes to get people out to an event.

And yet these establishments become popular and begin to become part of the landscape of where events are thrown around town. They attract the attention of others who want to host and house events—and who cares what kind of events they are as long as they bring in the money, right? OK, I can dig that—to an extent. However….

Someone new in the community, or much worse, some fly-by-night “promoter,” should never be able to knock off a scene-building vet at any establishment that understands the role and worth of art nurturers like Enoch 7th Prophet. They probably wouldn’t have even known to do an event at Almaz if it weren’t for the events that veteran artists and producers have put on there before. Those are the actions that help build the name and reputation of an establishment.  The business probably would not have made it this long if not for the hard work of our arts community, which frequently uses the space despite its faults. I mean, it’s not like I always see Almaz packed with a line out the door–even though I do enjoy the restaurant’s brunch every now and then. But alas no more…

A veteran and well-respected D.C. artist has put the call out to no longer spend my hard-earned nickels at Almaz. I plan to do just that, to show solidarity and support this movement for better treatment of Chocolate City artists. I’ve done a good bit of research this year on how to organize a boycott to put predatory businesses out of business, and so I can tell you that what my brother Enoch has done here is not exactly text book. But I love the passion and the sincerity I feel when I read the petition he authored explaining his grievance with Almaz. So, go ahead my brother, I got your back on this one! I hope the rest of the DMV arts scene follows suit.

Enoch 7th Prophet’s Pro-Seeds Project & Video Release Party takes place tonight at Lounge of Three, 1013 U St. NW. All proceeds to benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation.