A Big Kids' R&B Buffet 

The Grown Folks Music series fills Sweet's with Tony! Toni! Toné!

The hyphy movement's once-lucrative formula of cheap dance parties sponsored by the likes of 1800 Tequila recently spun out of control in Oakland's burgeoning downtown club scene. November's double homicide in Jack London Square and the subsequent closure of Mingles capped two years of neighborhood complaints about noise, litter, and sideshows.

Longtime club businessman Steve Snider, general manager of Historic Sweet's Ballroom, says the business has a dark side if you're just in it to get paid, and he wants to get as far from that dark side as possible.

Starting Friday, December 9, Snider, the man behind the nonprofit Oakland Box Theater and hip-hop club 2232 MLK, teams up with D'Wayne Wiggins of multiplatinum R&B stalwarts Tony! Toni! Toné! for the month-long Giving Back to Oakland series. A benefit for youth programming at Sweet's and 2232 MLK, the series includes a distinctly nonhyphy, KBLX-sponsored R&B component called Grown Folks Music, featuring Wiggins alongside rapper Calis Bain, R&B singer Tubi, and Atlanta-based hip-hop fusion band Living Remix.

Best known for his early-'90s hits, Wiggins is also a longtime Oakland music booster. He owns a chic, Moroccan-themed studio in the Lower Bottoms that has hosted Alicia Keys and Keyshia Cole, and he's currently recording a new Tony! Toni! Toné! album with fellow singers Amar Khalil and Timothy Christian. Wiggins also runs the Jahva House coffee shop, which hosts live music and spoken word events. He has produced local events for almost twenty years, including Too $hort's recent Halloween show. Wiggins helped Snider and Sweet's other manager, Andrew Jones, develop the idea and programming for Giving Back to Oakland.

The series dovetails with Snider's overall goal of turning his nine-hundred-capacity former big-band venue into a progressive arts hub wedged between @17th, Tycoon$ (the "upscale" replacement of what used to be Sweet Jimmie's), the legendary Paramount Theatre, and the two-thousand-unit high-rise under construction on Telegraph Avenue across from the Uptown nightclub.

"I challenge you, as a journalist, to find a ten-block radius anywhere in the world with as much revitalization of venues with historical significance going on, and as much reinhabiting of an urban environment that was blighted," Snider says, adding that, over the past decade, Jerry Brown's 10K plan has repopulated the city's once-sterile downtown. "[Mayor-elect] Ron Dellums is gonna take it to the next level," Snider says.

Still the fractious environment in Oakland makes show promotion potentially risky. Every day Snider gets calls and e-mail proposals from various hyphy artists and promoters who sometimes can't see beyond ticket and alcohol sales to Snider's full vision.

Snider pulls out an e-mail he'd sent to one of J.T. the Bigga Figga's managers, who had inquired about booking the rapper's "Mandatory Hyphy Tour" at Sweet's. Snider says J.T. recently came up with an acronym for "hyphy" to fit his entrepreneurial scheme: "Helping Young People Help You."

"I am not 100 percent opposed to [the Hyphy Tour] coming to one of our venues, but it needs to be tied to a much larger campaign that seriously addresses the issues we face in Oakland," Snider says. "One-off hyphy concerts will not adequately address the issues we face and actually could negatively impact the progress we are making."

Wiggins shares Snider's skepticism. "Hyphy is just another situation of youngsters coming up with their own recreation," he says. "We have to cultivate it into something that can change minds, instead of the other side, which is youth not having respect for each other."

Snider awaits a reply from the mandatory Hyphy Tour, though he agreed to a request by the mayor's office. Sweet's will host a hyphy-soul event for Dellums' inauguration week in January, and Snider says he's stoked.

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