Beni Johnson

Avenue Calgary’s 2015 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych

Job title: Founder, 10 at 10 Entertainment

Why he’s a 2015 Top 40:

As a founder and collaborator behind many of the city’s hip-hop hubs, including 10 at 10, Say Word and Feedback Fridays, Beni Johnson is helping to build both a positive reputation and a home for Calgary’s hip-hop community.

When he moved from Fort McMurray to Calgary in 2005, Beni Johnson had high hopes for the city’s music scene, but he found that hip hop had an image problem here and few venues catered to it.

“I found a lack of things that resonated with me,” says Johnson of Calgary’s scene. He believes misconceptions about hip-hop shows being something that attracted only “gangster” or “skater” kids kept larger venues from booking them.

“The result was events where only a small niche of rappers and their immediate friends would attend, rather than the wider, untapped demographic of Calgarians who enjoy the music,” says Johnson. “There was a lack of anybody trying to bring artists and all elements of hip hop together.”

Subsequent years working in graphic and web design with the Afrikadey! festival, helping organize the non-profit Collectively Eclectic’s annual Black History Month event Legacies and performing as a rap artist himself garnered him some attention in the scene he was helping to grow.

In 2011, the team at the now-defunct UBU Lounge approached Johnson to help organize a monthly hip hop open-mic night. He soon realized he had found what he’d been looking for. “I noticed that this had an opportunity to become a community, so I sat down with the guys that were there and said, this is where this concept can go; this is what I felt has been missing,” says Johnson.

He changed the night from an open-mic concept to one where 10 chosen artists perform for 10 minutes each in an upscale venue that defies stereotypes of what hip hop is, creating the 10 at 10 showcase.

It turns out Johnson wasn’t the only one looking for this scene; more than four years and nearly 50 showcases later, 10 at 10 has become the place to experience hip hop in Calgary, giving members of the community an opportunity to hone their skills, as well as a much-needed meeting place. “The feedback is so positive, and it’s affirmed and reaffirmed by the people that attend the event as something that’s necessary for them to have,” he says.

Now held at Commonwealth Bar & Stage on the second Wednesday of every month, 10 at 10 sees an average of 300 people a night come to be part of Calgary’s hip-hop community.

In everything he does, the 31-year-old Johnson seeks to encourage the growth of his chosen community and improve hip hop’s standing in the city. He has collaborated with partners to create other monthly events including Say Word, a spoken-word showcase, and Feedback Friday, an event where producers bring in their instrumental tracks to be critiqued by a panel of experts and local producers. He was also the creative director of the Four Plus Urban Arts Expo, a 2012 festival that combined arts, music and vendors at Eau Claire Plaza.

In the aftermath of the 2013 flood, Johnson also raised $12,000 for the Red Cross through a charity concert he helped organize a mere 48 hours after the disaster.

“Part of changing people’s perceptions of hip hop to something positive is to do things like that, to say this genre of music is more than just rappers, it’s a community of people who live a lifestyle that’s about giving,” says Johnson. “Sometimes, it gets typecast in a bad way, so I’m going to champion the positive things hip hop has done for me and make sure that everyone sees that positive side.” – Andrew Guilbert

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