If flashing neon signs, replicas of famous landmarks and top tier buffets aren’t enough to lure you to the Las Vegas strip, live entertainment might. If you’ve never visited the city before and you’re basing your expectations on classic films alone, you may be in for a shock. While the lights remain bright as ever, the musical landscape has changed quite a bit throughout the years.
A showcase of famed stars such as Liberace, Ella Fitzgerald and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself set the tone for entertainment in the city. Over time, however, especially throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Vegas’ famous hotels and casinos came to be seen as a dumping ground for what were considered “washed-up” stars singing to uninterested guests more fixated on their slot machines than those on stage. (1)
The past few decades, however, have said goodbye to those musical legends and the following wave of “retirees,” and has instead welcomed top-of-the-charts stars such as Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. Las Vegas will even have its own hip-hop music festival in 2021. The credibility of Las Vegas’ music industry however, continues to come in for scrutiny by some fans. (2)
Does the Las Vegas music industry lack credibility?
In the 1940s and 1950s African American performers especially, received a lot of mistreatment before and after their performances. Often forced to stay at “black only” boarding houses, they were unable to even gamble or participate in activities within the venues at which they were hired to perform. (1)
Although bigotry and discrimination have changed over time, there established venues still seem to favor (predominantly white) pop singers that already have stature, over others who don’t. Popular hip hop artists, for example, are plentiful in this day and age. There are, however, several hindrances that affect their chances of landing a residency in Las Vegas, and being recognized positively for it if they do.
What are the challenges facing hip hop artists in Vegas?
The level of consideration and respect towards performers often seems lacking. Casinos in particular are generally only after one thing: “the drop.” This term refers to the increase of nightly gambling profits. Therefore, if the presence of a star keeps guests satisfied and spending, there’s likely a Las Vegas casino interested in paying (or overpaying) that person to perform. The question, however, remains: who is considered worthy enough to perform? (3)
Considering that the legal age for gambling is 21, venues are adamant about offering residencies to artists who are a fit for that audience’s taste. The aforementioned Britney Spears definitely spoke to a younger demographic, however, was still welcomed and well-received in the city. This, however, was mainly due to her already existing level of fame rather than her age.
Realistically, hip hop speaks to several age-brackets. Still, as Ekoh—an indie rapper from Las Vegas—expressed, the city takes you for granted if you don’t already have a following. He also revealed that gaining a following in Vegas is very difficult. If, therefore, your fanbase is considered smaller than desired and believed to start and end predominantly with millennials, your chances of performing in Vegas arenas, let alone casinos or hotels, may be scarce if you can’t encourage guests to continue playing the slots after the show. Hip hop performers are also often expected to be happy with what they get, which generally involves limited nightclub sets, rather than tours. (4)
This generation of artists isn’t, however, the only to experience this sort of irritation. After 21-year-old Elvis performed at the New Frontier Hotel in 1956, he was met with reviews labelling him as a “whiz” for the teenager, but a “bore” for the average Vegas spender. If hip hop artists are unable to inspire the locals, or Las Vegas refuses to shift its generational perspective, residencies will likely prove elusive. (1)
Who’s changing the game?
Hope, however, isn’t completely lost. Regardless of the city’s somewhat misguided views towards hip hop performers, 2021 welcomes credit to artists where credit is due. Not only are well-established rappers such as Drake, expected to tour the city, but the first ever hip hop-dedicated weekend—Desert Drip—is set to commence, featuring multiple headliners. These events are expected and praised for giving hip hop a better rap within Sin City, and will hopefully broaden the scope of Vegas’ music industry.
Vegas is no stranger to live entertainment, however, the credibility of the Vegas hip hop scene as a whole has been questioned. Hip hop artists have faced difficulties in being appreciated and offered chances within the city to perform. 2021, however, may welcome a positive shift when it comes to hip hop representation.
- “Viva Las Vegas: A History Of Sin City’s Musical Residencies”, Source: https://www.udiscovermusic.com/in-depth-features/las-vegas-residencies-history/
- “Why hasn’t hip-hop had a real Las Vegas residency?”, Source: https://theundefeated.com/features/why-hasnt-hip-hop-had-a-real-las-vegas-residency/
- “Why Every Rapper is Heading to Las Vegas (and Why That’s a Problem)”, Source: https://trapital.co/2019/02/08/why-every-rapper-is-heading-to-las-vegas-and-why-thats-a-problem/
- “Ekoh says making music in Las Vegas is like a bad relationship”, Source: https://abeautifulperspective.com/2018/04/emerge-ekoh-las-vegas-relationship/