The Final Call Online Edition



WEB POSTED 02-25-2002




Hip Hop summit convenes on West Coast

by Nisa Islam Muhammad
Staff Writer

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (óThe west coast invitation-only Hip Hop Summit, held here at a hotel Feb. 14 as part of the Nation of Islamís World Savioursí Day 2002, was full of the makings of a great Hollywood movie, strong men, intense drama and surprises.

Sponsored by the Hip Hop Summit Action Network (HHSAN), this meeting of musical minds continued to reach out to artists and encourage progressive lyrics and exploit a unique opportunity for leadership.

"This summit was a success," explained HHSAN executive director Min. Benjamin Muhammad. "The hip hop community has a thirst and hunger to find a common compass to chart their future. They want to flex their muscle on voter registration, voter empowerment and be responsible for the impact of hip hop on the culture."

The summit included rappers and celebrities, record company execs and activists, like Mario Velasquez, executive director of "Rap the Vote" and Susan Jenkins, of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Strong men

Once again, the Honorable Min. Louis Farrakhan delivered the summitís keynote address before a standing room only crowd of more than 500. His message was an extension of his words of responsibility delivered last June at the East Coast hip hop summit.

He also urged youth to start a new movement for peace and reject stereotypical images. They offer pimps and prostitutes on video and in music, because the society can control them and would like to have you emulate them, he said. (See related story this page.)

Steve Harvey, popular deejay for a Los Angeles radio station, said a change was coming to Radio One, the Black-owned company he works for. There is a move to curtail a lot of the negative rap, he added. That means it will have an effect on your record sales, he explained.

The west coast summit was a prelude to the national hip hop summit scheduled for later this year. The brainchild of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, the summits bring together rappers, artists and others in the music industry that now exchange hugs instead of hate. Mr. Simmons warned that rap sales fell 17 percent over last year. R&B artists are capturing fans because people want to feel reality in music and that reality should be more than just harsh lyrics, he said.

ĎSugeí Knight speaks

"Each summit takes on a life of its own," explained Min. Muhammad. "New York had its own life and flavor and LA had its own life and flavor."

The life and flavor of the wild, wild west coast summit was seasoned with the late appearance of Death Row Records Marion "Suge" Knight, who walks under a cloud of suspicion and intimidation. He arrived late with an entourage and spoke after Min. Farrakhan had given remarks and left the venue.

"How can you make a difference in this industry when you donít own anything? You donít own your masters. Youíre just a worker. If we donít own anything or control anything, we wonít have anything," he said.

Rappers need a union, just as athletes and actors have unions to protect their rights, he argued.

Mr. Knight explained that rappers are powerless if they have a disagreement with a major label. They have limited ability to shop themselves around because the labels are connected and, Mr. Knight complained, most agents and lawyers are tied to record companies, not their clientsí interests.

The idea of unionizing artists was received with shouts and cheers from the audience.

"If Min. Farrakhan can make it here so can Suge Knight. How can you represent gangsta rap and you canít be here?" he asked, questioning why major rappers, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Master P, Jah Rule and others werenít present. Where was Sean "P Diddy" Combs? he asked. The West Coast shows love but it isnít reciprocated, he complained.

As the more personal tirade continued, a woman challenged the remarks. Jewel, a former Death Row artist, complained that beefs between rappers and unhealthy rivalries were reasons some people didnít show. The summit was called to promote the positive and unity, and that should be the focus, she said.

An argument back and forth ensued before Min. Benjamin and Nation of Islam Chief of Staff Leonard Muhammad got things back under control.

"Suge said a lot of important things but when you throw punches at people who are here, I thought that was a little out of perspective. Personal problems should be dealt with on a personal basis not in front of a group like this," Jewel later said in an interview.

Mr. Simmons was undaunted by talk of who was and who wasnít there. "We had so many people who came to do something positive that we canít focus on those who didnít come," he said.

Minister Tony Muhammad, the West Coast regional representative of Min. Farrakhan said, "Today you saw us make baby steps in progress."

Writer Davey D felt the Knight remarks, though raw, were important. They showed one element in hip hop that has to be addressed and reflected how hip hop artists often project themselves, he said.

The San Francisco area writer, who helped organize the West Coast summit, added, if you buy gangster rap, why be upset about a real gangster? There is a lot of work to do, he said.

The D.O.C., who has written for N.W.A. and other groups and lost his voice in a car accident said, "In order for us to benefit from the hard work and sacrifice of artists we have to come together like this and attack the hard issues."


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