Dr. Cornel West is an Ivy League-educated professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. A renown, controversial philosopher, orator, scholar and activist, Dr. West has written close to 20 profoundly influential books on the topics of race, politics, culture and religion, including the best-selling book, Race Matters.
It's not unusual to see West -- a cancer survivor and the son of a Baptist minister -- keeping company with everyone from students to senators, rabbis to rappers. In fact, West has a hand in making hip-hop music too: aside from his involvement with Russell Simmons's Hip-Hop Summit, West has two albums to his name.
On his first album, Sketches of My Culture, released in 2001, he skillfully set the ramifications of slavery to soulful spoken word grooves. On his latest album, Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations, released in 2007 with the Black Men Who Mean Business, he set his thoughts on being Black in post-9/11 Bush Country to funk, soul and hip-hop rhythms. Joining him: hip-hop and R&B heavy-hitters Prince (one of the first times the artist has ever allowed his work to be sampled), Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, KRS-One, Andre 3000, Killer Mike, The Roots' Black Thought and the late Gerald Levert.
“This isn’t commentary on hip-hop," West told Billboard.com. "This is a very political album that doesn’t pull any punches… There are critiques of the Bush administration as well as of unaccountable corporate power, unaccountable police power and homophobia. We’re trying to get young people to wake up and recognize they’re part of the great tradition of struggle, to become organized and fight for freedom of justice.”
This is hip-hop of the deepest, highest order intended to raise awareness, open minds, influence and inspire. As he told the Baltimore Sun, "Hip-hop is a powerful cultural force that can be used as a link to freedom. We've always had a group of prophetic musicians that fused the social, political and historical. Hip-hop as a force of change that may not speak directly to the Curtis Mayfield generation, but it speaks to young people and their children. And, my brother, we can't give up on our young people."
For his MTV Artist of the Week on-air videos, Dr. West and a few famous friends took that message directly to the schools, directly to the children -- specifically to Grace A. Dunn Middle School in Trenton, New Jersey. There, he schooled the young students in Black history, race and class, the Wu-Tang Clan and, above all else, how to lead a respectful, righteous life.