NEW YORK Hip-hop artists, record executives, politicians and journalists debated marketing strategies, discussed civil rights and aired some beefs in a series of largely private meetings Tuesday, the first day of Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit.
P. Diddy, Scarface, Talib Kweli, Jermaine Dupri, Luther "Luke" Campbell and the Wu-Tang Clan's U-God were among the artists who showed up at the New York Hilton for the summit, and much more firepower is expected Wednesday, when Eminem, Jay-Z, Will Smith and Queen Latifah are on the guest list and the Rev. Louis Farrakhan is scheduled to give the keynote speech.
But one artist was already bemoaning the turnout.
"One thing that's not too good is that you don't see too many artists," said Campbell, who was at the center of a rap lyrics controversy in the late 1980s with the 2 Live Crew. "You've got a lot of executives. It needs to be a little bit more artists because we are the ones that's actually responsible."
The day's biggest panel discussed hip-hop's empowerment and lack thereof in government. Chuck D and Talib were joined by political figures that included activist Martin Luther King III and Reps. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Earl Hilliard of Alabama.
Among the topics broached were payola, lack of education in the black community and, of course, the effect rap music has on young people. King said there is a desperate need to bridge the gap between the hip-hop generation and the older political figures.
"In 2001 you've got to find a way to communicate with young brothers and sisters or you'll find yourself unnecessary," he said.
"I think that it was a good thing ... that [Congress] is involved," Campbell said. "Cats need to get involved, link up and decide on how they gonna deal with all these bills that's out there, trying to shut hip-hop down."
Campbell said he experienced déja vu last week when the FCC fined a Colorado radio station for playing an edited version of Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady."
"One thing about the panel I learned is how so many black executives did not know where the labeling came from, how many cats that really didn't know what was going on as far as censorship in the hip-hop game," Luke said after the panel. "I always thought I was going through that struggle 12 years ago by myself, and that just confirmed that. Nobody had any idea it's reteaching and rethinking all over."
A new way of thinking is something Chuck D hopes the summit can get across to radio program directors, he said, because right now they don't play a wide enough variety of hip-hop.
"Music has more to offer," Chuck lamented after his panel. "Every story has to have their fair chance to be told. When it comes to our community, bad news is the only news that's told. Hip-hop sometimes follows that trend, [but] we can break it now."
As the day progressed, hip-hoppers and their CEO bosses including Violator's Chris Lighty and Def Jam's Lyor Cohen started to filter in and politick. P. Diddy, however, was in no mood to rub elbows. Bad Boy's CEO slid in unnoticed through a back entrance and attended a closed-door meeting for label A&Rs focusing on their artists' content.
The day started with a private meeting among label representatives to discuss marketing strategies, with RIAA president Hilary Rosen among those who spoke. A youth roundtable and a meeting about media responsibility followed, and Reverend Farrakhan also privately talked to some MCs. The Nation of Islam leader, who'll be on hand Wednesday as well, has been trying to help feuding rappers come to a peaceful resolution.