Russell Simmons says people have misconstrued his motives for inviting politicians, record executives and artists to a hip-hop summit on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York. The rap entrepreneur says his role in hosting the event is more that of a carpenter than of a cop.
“Somebody asked me if I was trying to clean up rap. The answer is f— no,” Simmons said this week. “‘F— tha Police’ is still my favorite record. I’m not here to change what we have. It’s like if you built this great big, giant house, you might want to build a wing on it. We’re trying to make decisions on what wings to add to this great house. It’s not like we’re not comfortable with what we have — what we have is great, [but] what can we add to it so it can be even greater?”
“You can’t police rap,” agreed Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. He and other rappers, including Wyclef Jean, Will Smith, Eminem, Jay-Z and LL Cool J, are scheduled to discuss the hip-hop industry with FCC Chairman Michael Powell, five members of Congress and minister Louis Farrakhan at Simmons’ summit.
“It’s not about no political thing, it’s about sharing,” Combs said. “If we don’t sit down and have this different level of dialogue and share our different stories — ‘How did you get through this? How did you get through that?’ — [hip-hop] won’t grow.”
Simmons and company are hoping their powwow will help devise new ways of music marketing (the possibility of running parental advisory notices on TV and radio will be discussed), settle feuds between MCs and encourage artists to expand their musical content and be more accountable for it. One discussion point will be the monotony of lyrics pertaining to ice, guns and fast women.
Combs, who has been blasted by his peers, the media and fans for rhyming about those same topics, has promised to lead by example. “I’m going to take responsibility for [my record label], Bad Boy, and make sure what we put out there is a positive thing,” he said.
Wyclef, who will moderate a seminar with Simmons and Combs on how to inspire creativity in artists, agrees there is too little variety in rap.
“I just wanna talk about different perspectives of the ‘hood,” Clef said. “Why are A&R only looking for something that sounds like something else? We’re supposed to be innovative. What happened to the five- or six-year plan for these artists? If the first album don’t work, we’ll try the second one. Why every time we go to A&Rs it’s like, ‘You got something that sound like Clef? You got something that sounds like Jigga?’ You’re discouraging people right there. Innovation is gone.”
Clef’s peers are hoping the summit can also resolve some other issues. Talib Kweli, for example, wants the hip-hop media to be less sensationalistic.
“I feel that a lot of the problems in hip-hop, whether it be East Coast/West Coast [feuding], Jay-Z beefing with Prodigy, whether it’s underground versus commercial, Puffy’s legal troubles, hip-hop journalism is something that doesn’t exist,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people that are journalists by trade and into hip-hop. If you’re gonna call yourself a hip-hop publication, you need to not tear artists down, not pit artists against each other. When it’s time to have some responsibility, they have none.”
Simmons has invited Powell and politicians to discuss, among other issues, what Simmons claims is police profiling of hip-hop artists (see “New York Police Gang Unit Targets Hip-Hop Community” ) and censorship. Simmons this week denounced the FCC’s decision to fine a Colorado radio station for playing an edited version of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” (see “Eminem’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’ [Clean Version] Not Clean Enough For FCC” ).
“Maybe that will be the thing to bring [rappers'] voices up to another level,” Simmons said. “It’s nothing they can do to stop the voices of hip-hop. The worst they can do is make hip-hop stronger.”
Many of the meetings at the summit will be behind closed doors, and Simmons plans to hold a press conference on Thursday to announce new hip-hop initiatives and agendas spawned by the summit.
“What this really is, is getting together and feeling our power,” Simmons said. “Knowing how great the power is. Sometimes you get so caught up in making money, you forget how much power you really have.”
Said Combs, “No matter what people say about hip-hop, it is one of the most positive influences on the minority community. [We] just have to make sure everything [we're] doing is making the art form grow.”