It was a night of high irony. Literally. As Snoop Dogg puffed on a blunt the size of the ass end of a pool cue onstage at the Agora Theatre on a recent Tuesday, his fans were subjected to security almost as tight as his joints were rolled. Snoop blew marijuana smoke rings in the air, while guards blew their gaskets when kids didn't take keys out of their pockets as they were combed over by a handheld metal detector.
Eventually the party would end for Snoop -- the next night, he was busted for marijuana possession just outside of Cleveland, after his tour bus was pulled over for speeding -- but it never began for his fans. Normally, when entering the Agora, patrons are simply subjected to a patdown, if that. But on this night, fans had to weather the glares of a pair of Cleveland police officers as soon as they walked into the building. There was a police officer just inside the door, a pair of cops standing watch at the entrance of the theater, and another cop immediately inside. To be able to drink, they had to present their ID to uniformed security guards instead of the usual, friendly Agora staff.
"We know that we're going to have more people trying to get in places they don't belong; we just have to have more eyes," says Agora Assistant General Manager Sue Dunn. "We have police [for Snoop's show], but we have police for rock shows."
Still, a week earlier, when mock rock duo Tenacious D played the same room, in what was close to a sold-out show, there were no cops or metal detectors; nor were either present when Boston punks the Dropkick Murphys played the theater three days before Snoop's appearance.
But this was a rap show, and therein lay the difference. Across Cleveland, many clubs have recently become increasingly wary of hip-hop events, refusing to hold rap shows or subjecting rap concertgoers to security measures that fans of other types of music don't have to deal with.
After hosting Snoop Dogg's birthday party the night before, Peabody's officially discontinued holding hip-hop shows because of repeated visits by the police during hip-hop events. Dan Cull, owner of Peabody's, declined comment on the situation, but he's not the only figure in the Cleveland club scene who is distancing himself from hip-hop.
"I won't touch it anymore. I've tried, but it's too much trouble for what it's worth, just because of the general attitude of the fans and how they treat the place," says Kalin Stipe, booking agent for the Blind Lemon. "Everybody's trying to make it look like a subway underpass or something. I could have 50 people there, I could have 300 people there, and I'm still going to make the same amount of money, which isn't going to be a whole lot, because I have to go back and paint everything again. They mark all over the walls. It's never been beneficial for us."
The Agora has had its problems as well. The week before Snoop's visit, when hardcore rapper Jay-Z was in town, unruly fans destroyed two doors after being denied entrance to the sold-out show.
It's not a question, then, of whether incidents ever occur at rap shows: They do. The question is, are these incidents that much greater in number than those associated with, say, a heavy metal concert? Moreover, are clubs that double up on security for rap shows simply responding to the potential for real problems, or are they succumbing to unfair stereotypes about the behavior of rap fans?
"It's just reputation," says MC Show, half of the Cleveland rap duo Show 'N Prove, about violence at rap shows. "I think that white groups are the most violent -- all those mosh pits and shit." Indeed, the reputation was all hype at the Snoop Dogg show, which featured no unruly behavior.
The bouncers at the Rhythm Room can relate. Since undergoing an ownership change in February, the club has had a total of two fights. This is despite the fact that the club has become one of the most hip-hop-intensive clubs in the area, hosting showcases and events on a weekly basis.
"I haven't had hardly any problems since day one," says Terri Shepherd, owner of the Rhythm Room. "When we took over the club from the old owner, his philosophy was 'No hip-hop, there's too much trouble.' But I've done a hundred times more hip-hop than he ever did, and I have had zero problems. I never have any graffiti at my hip-hop nights. I have more graffiti on a predominantly white night."
In Shepherd's opinion, excessive security is more of a catalyst for unrest than a preventive measure. By maintaining a moderately staffed security team and not doubling up on bouncers when hip-hop events are held, Shepherd feels that she's headed off many potential problems.
"If they feel like they have to be watched when they come in the door, why wouldn't they act up?" Shepherd asks. "That would make me mad to begin with. People can pick up vibes if they're wanted or not wanted."
Indeed, the overabundant security at some venues may inadvertently contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy of unruliness at rap shows. The reality of the situation is that there's bound to be dust-ups whenever large groups of people intermingle -- think of your family at Thanksgiving -- and indeed, we've come to accept this fact at football games, rock concerts, and happy hour at the local pub. But for some reason, the tolerance level drops when it comes to rap shows.