NEW YORK Will Smith, LL Cool J, Wyclef Jean, Queen Latifah, Redman and Ja Rule came together on Wednesday for the second day of Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit, which centered around a keynote address by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Despite the assembled star power which also included Capone-N-Noreaga, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli and such early pioneers of hip-hop as Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc the artists were in the New York Hilton as listeners, not as performers.
The spotlight was on Farrakhan, whose nearly three-hour speech urged rappers to accept their responsibilities as role models and to avoid internecine violence and feuds.
"With leadership comes responsibility. You've now got to accept the responsibility you've never accepted," Farrakhan said, standing behind a lectern on a stage where Latifah, Chuck D and Simmons sat. "This may be the most important speech I've ever given. You are the leaders of the youth of the world." LL Cool J said after the speech that he embraced Farrakhan's message. "It doesn't matter how good you're supposed to be at what you do. If you can't inspire people to be positive and be leaders and dream, you're not utilizing the power that you have for the best." Farrakhan urged artists to address current events in their lyrics and "speak to the issues that enlighten your people." He mocked artists who he said thank God when they win awards but embrace Satan when it comes time to write lyrics.
Even during the harshest criticism, the audience of artists and executives repeatedly interrupted Farrakhan's speech with forceful applause. Several artists also met privately with Farrakhan after the speech, according to event publicists.
Will Smith, who arrived after Farrakhan finished speaking, said that he had been waiting for an event like the summit for a long time.
"Rap music is the black American voice to the world. All people all around the world know about blacks in America is rap music," Smith said. "My only question I have is, is it an accurate depiction of who we are? A lot of rappers have no idea how important their voice is, how important that message is and how important that picture is." Though the scheduled agenda of Wednesday's summit focused on speeches by Farrakhan and by Kwesi Mfume, head of the NAACP, many of the most interesting moments came as artists met offstage, sometimes in unexpected combinations.
As Ja Rule stood near a lunch buffet explaining his hopes for the summit, Grandmaster Flash walked by and interrupted him. "This man is a perfect example of what hip-hop can be," the veteran DJ said, as Ja Rule beamed. The two men began chatting and posed together with DJ Kool Herc for photographers.
Despite Smith's superstar status, he appeared at the event accompanied only by his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. He signed autographs for fans, including several members of the solemn, bow-tied Fruit of Islam security guards who swarmed the hotel during the event.
The summit, which kicked off Tuesday (see "P. Diddy, Luther Campbell On Hand As Rap Summit Begins"), is scheduled to conclude Thursday with a press conference that organizers promise will reveal concrete results of the event.