The state of the Vans Warped Tour is in constant flux. What started as a haven for skateboarders and punk kids to watch bands like No Doubt and Sublime has reinvented itself time and again with fresh genres and revamped stages. Throughout its 17-year history, young music fans have come out in droves to experience this invaluable source for an alternative-music lifestyle.
Although punk continues to be the main draw, hip-hop is the sleeping giant of the Warped Tour. For years, rap acts like Eminem, M.I.A., Talib Kweli, Jurassic 5, Kool Keith, and Ice-T have broadened the artist offerings beyond Warped's expected legion of hardcore and punk acts.
"I know that the tour has evolved and the music is not like it used to be when it first started," says Yelawolf, one of the biggest hip-hop draws on the 2011 tour, which also includes beat-friendly acts Gym Class Heroes, Grieves With Budo, and MC Lars. "There's more pop, pop-rock, dance-rock punk, swag, hardcore. I'm honored to be a part of it, really."
Yelawolf's blend of straight hip-hop with a rawer, mosh-ready performance style fits somewhere among straightforward Warped acts like Against Me! and Dance Gavin Dance. But the guy who now counts Blink-182's drummer as a friend and a collaborator for his next studio album, Radioactive, thinks there's more to it than that. "We all grew up on the same shit. It's a shared culture," he continues. "It's not like how it used to be... a lot of these punk bands grew up on Three 6 Mafia too. One of [the bands] even told me, 'If I wasn't doing this shit I'd be rapping.' "
When Warped hits West Palm Beach on Saturday, there's an entire hip-hop area called the Bring It Back Stage awaiting Yelawolf fans who want more music of a similar ilk. Part of only eight stops on this year's Warped Tour, the stage reflects a grassroots involvement with hip-hop and four of its greatest counterparts: break dancing, graffiti, turntablism, and emceeing. More than a dozen talented hip-hop musicians are set to perform, along with live art demonstrations, DJ exhibitions, and B-boy ciphers, bringing a whole new element to the tour.
Lake Worth-based hip-hop label Footwork4Self is heavily involved with promoting and planning the Bring It Back Stage's West Palm Beach stop this year. As a result, the label's own Mr. Chief, Jabrjaw & Dee Dubbs, and Cadet Yo are performing on the stage, and Footwork4Self is helping to put together the official 21-and-up afterparty at the Speakeasy Lounge in Lake Worth that same night featuring local acts Protoman and Zillaintry.
"During the day, it is more serious and about making a statement," says Footwork4Self's CEO, Ryan Kolquist. "The evening event will be laid-back and a time to really just network with individuals from all over the country while at the same time listening to quality live music."
Coming from an underground hip-hop background, Protoman is used to playing a lot of punk rock and hardcore shows as well as having fans wearing both Nikes and old, beat-up Chuck Taylors. "Everyone is becoming more aware now that it's OK to like both kinds of music genres, but it's always been there," he says. "Since Def Jam and Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. It's just a voice of the youth, and right now, the youth are into so many different things. Everybody is just kind of playing everything, 'cause everything is good."