NEW YORK Minister Conrad Muhammad and his CHHANGE (Conscious Hip Hop Activism for Global Empowerment) organization's message to the rap-music industry is clear: The hip-hop community must solve the "crisis" it faces.
Muhammad held a meeting Wednesday (May 9) in Harlem, where top African-American record company executives, including Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, had been invited to discuss rap imagery Muhammad views as portraying the African-American community in a negative light. Muhammad also called for record companies to initiate programs to teach artists how to deal with sudden celebrity.
Rap's "b-word, n-word, thugs and prostitution images" were invoked by the minister during a press conference following his three-hour conference. "This was not a meeting to bash rap music," he told reporters. "We wanted to meet today with black executives to find out why the African-American community has been degraded in some of the most egregious ways."
Simmons, who is planning his own hip-hop summit to be held June 12-13 in New York, was a no-show. The hip-hop pioneer had earlier sent e-mail to executives at top rap labels discouraging support for Muhammad's efforts and, indeed, none of these executives was present. Muhammad, however, deemed the turnout, which included rapper KRS-One and members of the Zulu Nation, a success.
"For anyone to attack this meeting or send memos telling people not to come to this effort," he said, "it has to be something deeper than disagreement." Muhammad has debated these issues with Simmons in the past.
"I don't count this meeting as a failure because Russell Simmons didn't show up," said Muhammad, who has spoken out against the lyrical content of artists including Jay-Z, P. Diddy, Master P and Shyne, whom he advised during the latter's recent nightclub-shooting trial. "I'm more interested in the community. Those who have made money off of negative rap, you wouldn't necessarily expect them to come to our meeting. But ultimately we'll address the issue with them. They can either do it themselves or we're gonna do it for them."
Muhammad and his organization plan to address the issue by boycotting record labels and media outlets, and by engaging in civil disobedience. "We're saying if we can't get these issues addressed, we can march and protest and go to jail. I'm willing to go to jail to say these companies cannot package and sell degrading images to African-American people."
KRS-One declared he'll be with Muhammad every step of the way. "Our children are at stake," he said. "We can't play games anymore. We're not against free expression. If an artist feels he has to use the 'n' or 'b' words, that's a poetic debate. What we're saying is you cannot package the word muthaf---er to our children."
Muhammad conceded that Simmons himself might discover a cure for the negative-imagery "epidemic," and appeared willing to let the mogul take matters into his own hands.
"We are willing, in the sprit of unity, to wait until after [Simmons'] summit to see if they put forth an effective solution. If they can do that, we'll feel we scored a victory. If they are not willing to address these issues, our campaign for dignity will continue."
Simmons was unavailable for comment.
CHHANGE was founded by Muhammad in 1998 to promote social consciousness in the black community, with an emphasis on the hip-hop subculture. Muhammad and his group have organized protest marches, rallies and voter-registration drives. Muhammad has also served as spiritual adviser for various rappers, including Shyne.