SummerNight Celebrates 50 Years of Rap in Schenectady

Schenectady County is hosting its annual summer concert in the city’s downtown area this Friday. This year, SummerNight features Arrested Development, the famed 1990s hip-hop group that won Grammy awards and millions of fans.

We sat down with Schenectady County Legislator Omar McGill at Arthur’s Market in the Stockade this week to discuss the upcoming concert and the significant choice to have music that reflects Schenectady’s diverse community. McGill emphasized the importance of inclusivity and community engagement, sharing his vision for a more diverse range of events and entertainment. He also addressed concerns about safety and expressed the city’s preparedness to ensure a safe environment for attendees. The conversation highlighted the positive impact of music, the need for more youth programs, and the role of community members in supporting the city’s growth.

Jim Gilbert:  So, Omar, what got you into politics?

Omar McGill: For me, moving to Atlanta and going to Morehouse College. I was able to see many people that look like me in government, being successful in government and being successful in business. Really making a difference within their community. But when I returned home, I didn’t really see that.

What happened was I started working with the [State] Legislature, and in the Legislature, you see a diverse makeup because that’s what our state looks like. I had the opportunity to work there under the leadership of Carl Heastie, the first African American speaker, and that was an honor, being behind the scenes in policy and then being on the floor. I really got to see both sides. And that really started to pique my interest, saying, okay, maybe I should go into politics.

At first, I was doing work at a nonprofit called Epic Games. We work with youth and young adults on navigating the college process, being socially responsible, being health aware, and essentially, being a well-rounded individual, being a part of anything that is very enriching and more powerful to young people. In 2018, a vacancy opened up from the unfortunate passing of Karen Johnson, and somebody recommended that I actually try to put my name in the ring. It didn’t work out the first time, but I ran the second time and succeeded.

JG: And you’re right here in the Stockade. You live in the Stockade. You represent the Stockade and this half of the city; where else do you represent?

OM: I was born and raised in Vale Village, so I represent Vale Village, where my grandma has had a house for 55 years. She’s gone on, but my mother still lives in the house. It’s awesome. Then we have the north side, which is the Van Vraken area, Union College, the GE plots, downtown, and also parts of Mount Pleasant and Bellevue.

JG: Speaking of Downtown, that’s where the County hosts SummerNight. Can we talk about that? What’s the significance of the concert each year?

OM: We [Schectady County] have been doing it for a while, and it’s been successful. It’s a great way to unite our community around something that many people love: music. Even if it’s not an artist you might have heard of or may not listen to all the time. I think the combination of the music and fireworks and then all the restaurants and businesses and the vendors really creates an atmosphere of unity and people being able to be outside in the summer. They join each other, hear some music, have some good food, and maybe a cocktail.

JG: And how’s the relationship between the county and the city of doing this event?

OM: I think it’s great. Everybody works together. We really do an excellent job of trying to make sure we’re in a safe environment and that things are flowing well.

JG: Schenectady is a diverse city; this is the first time we have a black headliner [Arrested Development]. Can you talk about the significance of that?

OM: This year is the 50th year of hip-hop, and there have been celebrations across the country. Hip-hop started in the Bronx, so it’s great that we can incorporate a celebration of hip hop by bringing in artists and Arrested Development, who are Grammy-winning artists. Their music work is really about social consciousness and empowerment, self-reflection, and change. Listen to a lot of their music; it’s a powerful message. Hip-hop, at this point in society, has touched every corner of the world, and it’s a cultural force in today’s society. So for Schenectady County to bring in an artist like this and unite people around artists and celebrate a culture that everybody appreciates, it doesn’t matter what color you are, people appreciate it. It’s great that we’ll be able to put them right in downtown. So I think it’s awesome that we’re doing it, especially with the 50th year of hip-hop.

JG: Being from Nippertown, we love our local artists, and you guys have something in store for everyone to truly celebrate the 50 years of hip-hop with a couple of our local DJs. Can you talk about that?

OM: Yes! DJ Ketchup and DJ Hollyw8d. They’re both great DJs with origin stories based in Schenectady. And I think they’re going to do a great job with the tribute because they really, really respect the culture and respect the history because they were born out of it. 

DJ Hollyw8d

JG: Something on everyone’s mind after the bomb threat at SPAC last week. How are you going to keep people safe?

OM: Obviously, safety is always a top priority. We’ve been working with a ton of agencies, even before the SPAC situation. We’ve been working with a ton of organizations in the Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, and a host of other agencies working on different scenarios to make sure that we are able to keep people safe. We are prepared for it. There’s still preparation leading up to it. But we are prepared. We’re going to create a safe environment where people can feel safe, have a good time and not have to worry.

JG: Thank you. Anything else you want to add?

OM: I want to remind people that it’s this Friday, July 14th, in Downtown Schenectady from 5 to 10pm. We’re going to have Arrested Development, DJ Hollyw8d, DJ Ketchup, Grand Central Station, Girl Blue, and the Stockade Kids. We’ve got fireworks and a host of free activities from Best Fitness and MVP Kids. Price Chopper/Market 32 always does the fireworks at night, and then there’ll be an encore performance from DJ Ketchup and DJ Hollyw8d. So it’s going to be a fun-filled night. The weather looks like it’s going to hold up for us. I think there’ll be a little bit of rain in the morning, but it looks like it’s going to be nice the rest of the day. So we encourage people have come out. It’s been a great, well-attended event over the past years, and we’re hoping that this year will be even bigger and better.

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