Editorials

Why are Drake, Cardi B and other artists of color on these Westport bars’ no-play list?

This Westport bar isn’t afraid to cater to a diverse crowd

Promoter Joshua Lewis hosts the weekly Whiskey Wine and Wings happy hour at Dempsey's Burger Pub, one of the few events marketed toward black millennials.
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Promoter Joshua Lewis hosts the weekly Whiskey Wine and Wings happy hour at Dempsey's Burger Pub, one of the few events marketed toward black millennials.

DJs spinning tunes at Johnny Kaw’s and Johnny Kaw’s Yard Bar in Westport aren’t allowed to play Drake’s “Nonstop” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” Some music from Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, and Cardi B is off-limits, too.

Owner Brett Allred has deemed nearly 30 songs, including top hits from Grammy award winners and some of the most popular hip-hop and R&B artists, unsuitable for his businesses.

Allred, of course, is well within his rights to pick and choose the music that blasts across his bars on Saturday night. But his official no-play list, which was posted online last week, happens to include only artists of color.

And that fact rightly has spurred pushback in the African-American community.

Banning certain hip-hop acts and R&B music isn’t necessarily racist. But it does raise serious questions about the goal of the guidelines and the thought process behind them.

Allred says the list, which includes about a dozen artists, was an internal memo meant for DJs. Race did not play a factor in its creation, he said.

“The music I choose to play is based on the content and sound of the music not the color of the artist’s skin,” Allred said. “A lot of the music on our ‘no-play list’ does not fit (the bars’) criteria, but most of the music we do play is by African-American artists.”

But what message does a no-play list featuring only minority artists send? Does it matter how non-white patrons feel?

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Johnny Kaw’s in Westport Google Maps

For some who have voiced concerns, the list is additional evidence that Westport in recent years has implemented policies, including privatizing some sidewalks, that are less inclusive and that have had the effect of pushing out a certain population.

That sentiment is increasingly pervasive among African Americans.

“I did a little research and found that some of the songs and artist banned are actually top 100 Billboard charting artist,” Kansas City resident Joshua Hudspeth wrote in a Facebook post directed at Allred. “In order to reach that level, you must have radio spins. This means you must have clean, profanity-free edited versions. Why not play the radio versions of these songs?”

Some say the solution is simple: If you’re offended by the list, don’t patronize Johnny Kaw’s. But African Americans and other minorities shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable at certain Westport bars and restaurants.

The entertainment district has had its share of problems with fatal shootings and other violent crimes. But rap lyrics are not to blame for the gun violence that sometimes has spilled out onto the streets, and the no-play list is not the antidote to public safety issues in the area.

Hudspeth has conveyed that message to Allred.

In fact, this dust-up has yielded one positive outcome: Allred, Hudspeth and Joshua Lewis sat down to discuss the situation. Lewis is CEO of Updown Nightlife, a social networking app for club-goers in Kansas City. Hudspeth is active with the group.

Allred and Lewis plan to collaborate on future events at Johnny Kaw’s featuring hip-hop and R&B. And Allred is considering softening his stance on the ban.

That would be the right decision. But it doesn’t absolve him from the fallout that resulted from his no-play list.

Too many minorities feel they are tolerated instead of welcomed in Kansas City’s social scene. A no-play list that includes only of artists of color is a step in the wrong direction for Westport.

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