This morning, I woke up, feelin’ brand new.
I jumped up feelin’ my highs, and my lows,
in my soul, and my goals.
—Talib Kweli, “Get By”
On Saturday, hip hop acted its age.
I had a feeling something powerful was going to happen at Saturday’s Detroit Hip- Hop Summit, which was part of the NAACP’s Freedom Weekend activities. I got the hunch when Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam and its many subsidiaries, gave an unexpected response to a question from FM 98 WJLB morning-show host MC Serch.
Serch asked Simmons what artists should consider when getting started in the music business. Simmons suggested, to a Cobo Arena audience of thousands, that artists consider the spiritual value in promotion.
He suggested that giving is a spiritual act and, when artists put their heart and soul into a marketable product, only to give it away, there is pious value in the gesture. “I don’t know if I’m answering your question, Serch,” Simmons said, “but whenever you give something away, it comes back to you.”
Simmons set the tone for a day that, outside of a few awkward moments, was arguably one of the most refreshing in recent hip-hop history. The kickoff included Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who at age 32 is nationally recognized as “the hip-hop mayor,” engaging the crowd in a call-and-response of Run-DMC classics “My Adidas,” “Peter Piper” and “Hard Times.” It was a day that saw activists, civic leaders, artists and executives come together and hold a discussion, with no posturing, no self-aggrandizement, but with plenty of information that aspiring artisans can utilize.
Hip hop’s elders — Simmons, Doug E. Fresh, the D.O.C., MC Serch — sat at the table with the culture’s offspring — Obie Trice, Eminem, Slum Village — and had a constructive talk in front of more than 200 camera crews from around the world, and a whole lotta mamas and kids.
Not every question was intelligent, not every inquisitor articulate, but issues like economic empowerment in hip hop, entrepreneurship and the need for more expressions of love were addressed sincerely. There was enough shared that, if 10 percent of the people in attendance try to incorporate half of what they heard, a lot of Detroiters will set themselves up to prosper in the music business.
I chaired the NAACP’s Young Adult Committee (1994-1999), which launched the Hip Hop Youth Summit in 1995. Bushman, Billy T. and the late Art in the Dark sat on its inaugural panel. Detroit poet jessica Care moore was the featured artist. NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony and I expressed hope than that the summit would grow to involve the culture’s biggest representatives. With the help of Clear Channel Radio and the mayor’s office, that vision came true. I’m proud to have been there in the beginning.
Hip hop still, unfortunately, has a lot of growing up to do. The Def Poetry Slam, which took place at St. Andrew’s Hall later that day, was followed by an MC battle that saw young wannabe rappers take turns seeing who could come up with the craftiest way to call each other niggas and bitches. Also, the Def Jam Vendetta Tour rocked the State Theatre just after a town hall meeting took place at Cobo Arena. The Tour played to a full house. The town hall meeting played to fewer than 500. This underscores the reason Simmons launched the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. The political process, just like other American citizens, affects young people who rap, dance and sing. If we don’t get involved in it, many people outside hip hop will continue to look upon and treat the culture as a New World rendition of the jig.Khary Kimani Turner covers the hip-hop nation for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org