NEW YORK Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, who's built a career on innovations in business and artist development, isn't out to change the game with his latest endeavor. Instead, Simmons wants to inspire members of the hip-hop community.
On June 12 and 13, Simmons will host a hip-hop power summit where artists and label executives will converge to discuss problems facing the rap music industry. Among those already confirmed to participate are Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Damon Dash, Sean Combs, Dr. Dre, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Scarface and Q-Tip, as well as the heads of the Loud, Def Jam and Priority record labels. Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan will also be on hand to give a keynote speech during the summit.
"No one has said no," Simmons said. "This is something we've been talking about for a long time. We wanted to make sure we had something to make the rappers show up." "The theme of the summit is taking back responsibility," Simmons explained. "We're preparing a list of things of how we plan to police ourselves in terms of how we market music. We're gonna make a bold announcement after the summit of what we plan to do." Simmons is hopeful that the move will help combat Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman's proposed bill to fine record labels and film companies for marketing adult material to children (see "Advertising Stickered CDs To Young Audiences Could Get Costly").
Simmons is also calling for thematic variety in rap music and will be moderating a seminar focusing on the labels' A&R departments.
"You can't only be thinking about standing on the corner for the rest of your life, dying," he said. "There are too many people that are worldly and sophisticated and have kids in school, and their songs don't reflect their real life. Let's get more truth." Simmons is also taking measures to ensure that the artists don't keep extra real and let musical feuds spill off of the wax and into the streets. As part of the summit, some artists will sit down with Minister Farrakhan and attempt to resolve their differences.
"We feel very strongly in the success rate about trying to settle these beefs, because they're not fighting over no land or no money," Simmons said. "So when you get in a room and have the minister asking you what you're fighting over, nobody can really articulate it that well." Simmons worked with Farrakhan in a similar fashion during the East Coast/West Coast rivalry. Common and Ice Cube were among those who were convinced to call a truce.
"The hip-hop community doesn't listen to too many people, but they have a history of listening to him," Simmons said.
He also plans to introduce an initiative that will hopefully bring an end to, or at least curb, what he calls the profiling of rappers, especially by the NYPD. He's started an organization that he claims will make thousands of military-trained men and women available for hire to provide security for entertainers.
On June 14, Simmons, who has been actively planning the event for the last three weeks with former NAACP head Ben Chavis, will hold a press conference to announce what actions that the hip-hop community will be taking as an outcome of the summit.