Those that follow the local hip hop scene have probably seen the name Trina Thompson pop up from time to time. When she’s not taking photos at various hip hop shows, Thompson is usually busy spreading the word about the shows themselves. A pro bono promoter, of sorts. She doesn’t dedicate her time to this scene because it pays her rent. She does it because she loves hip hop.
Passion is something to be admired, and people admire Thompson. So much so that her 40th birthday bash Saturday at The Mill will feature a number of artists and musicians in support of Thompson not only for what she does, but for who she is.
“We always break her down the same way for the most part. We joke about it a lot, how she’s the queen of Iowa City hip hop,” said Brandon Calkins, aka Johndope of the AWTHNTKTS. Calkins is quick to admit hip hop isn’t exactly Iowa City’s strong suit when it comes to the live music scene. He talks about multiple periods throughout the last decade or so where it seemed as if Iowa City’s various bookers had given up on scheduling hip hop shows entirely. Throughout it all has been Thompson, who has worked countless hours to keep Iowa City on the radar of the underground hip hop scene, even if nobody else was. Even if it was just the smallest blip.
“She’s done her best to make sure that these people keep coming back, and to let them know that at least the people want them here if the bars dont want them here,” Calkins said. “And she always does it out of love. Ive seen her come out of pocket numerous times when a show didn’t work out … If she keeps anything at all, it’ll be a bar tab.”
Apart from acting as a sort of underground liaison for the Iowa City hip hop community, one of Thompson’s greatest strenths is her ability to make visitors feel comfortable, Calkins says. He wasn’t talking about the sort of comfort you get from a soft leather couch. He’s tapping into a deeper meaning of the word that few are able to appreciate. For a struggling tour, comfort is rare. It’s precious.
“People know,” Calkins said, referring to those who’ve embarked upon “shitty, shitty tours where a homecooked meal and a clean couch are one hundred times better than sleeping in the van.”
“It really means things to people when you let them feel like they’re at home, and that they have friends in the middle of nowhere,” he added. “She’s just quality, and she’s got that love in her for music that people just gravitate towards. When you’re on tour, for a lot of these people, they look forward to coming here because they know that they have a noble shit-stop where they’re just going to be able to be around quality people and, even if the shows turns out being small, it’s always a good time for everybody.”
“She would just take people in,” said artist Peter Jablonksi. “She was one of the first people to offer me a space when I got back to Iowa last year. She looks out for everybody all the time.”
Thompson has spent more than a decade with her finger on the pulse, accomodating and caring for visiting artists in a bid to turn Iowa City into a stopthrough between Minneapolis and Chicago. Her name might not be wellknown outside the underground hip hop community, but on the inside, Thompson carries weight.
“A lot of it is on some motherly shit. A lot of it is on some hip hop royalty shit,” Calkins said, chuckling. There’s an earnestness in Calkins’ voice as he describes the impact Thompson has on people. He talks at length, but only because he wants to get it right. There is no planned spiel because he doesn’t need one.
Calkins recalls a number of stories from the road, but the common theme seems to be pretty simple: Thompson does a lot of good in Iowa City, and people don’t forget. He’s full of stories saying as much, laughing about the time rapper Slug — best known for his role in the hip hop group Atmosphere — spotted Thompson amid a crowd of about 25,000 in Minneapolis and ended up driving over in his golf cart. He wanted to say hi.
Then there was the time he and Thompson attended the Soundset Music Festival about five or six years ago.
“We were in the crowd of 14,000 people that day, and out of nowhere, I just hear someone screaming her name,” he said. “And we look over, and it’s Eyedea. Eyedea had climbed on top of the giant fence from back stage and was just screaming for her with a giant smile on his face, and even his hometown where Rhymesayers is running the show, someobody who was one of the biggest pieces of the underground this generation reggardless of him passing away or not, just picked her out of a crowd and demanded that they be able to speakd and they be able to give her a hug because of that love that she had shown him before. That stuff doesn’t go away.”
Names like Eyedea, Slug and call-outs to the Rhymesayers Entertainment might not resonate a whole lot with broader audiences, but in their respective spheres of influence, these names command respect. To some, Rhymesayers is hip hop.
Likewise, on a much more local level, there are other names. Names that are unknown to most, yet resonate deeply with a select few. Thompson is one of them.