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Hip Hop Fridays: Convention To Empower The Hip Hop Generation by Carrie Stetler

As a force for political change, human beat-boxing lacks the clout of, say, a sit-down strike.

But Doug E. Fresh, the old school legend who invented the form, is one of the headliners at the Hip-Hop National Convention, a mix of activism and music that runs Wednesday through June 19 at Military Park in Newark.

"I think the hip-hop generation are more into politics than they used to be," says Fresh, 37. "With the war going on and all these other issues, it makes them want to know what their future is."

Billing itself as a celebration of the "hip-hop generation's" political power, the convention's four-day roster of workshops and seminars will tackle issues such as education, criminal justice, immigration, health care and voter registration. (One seminar is titled "Organizing 201: How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office.")

Then there's the music. At the June 18 nighttime concert at Military Park, Fresh will be joined by two other hitmakers from the 1980s: Slick Rick and MC Lyte. Wyclef Jean will also perform.

Other artists who will appear at the convention -- on panels or on stage -- include Chuck D. of Public Enemy, Kurtis Blow, Newark native Rah Digga, Africa Bambaata, The Beatnuts and the R&B duo Floetry.

All events are free, but convention attendees must register online at or in person at Essex County College on Thursday and June 18.

The National Hip-Hop Convention -- expected to draw thousands of young people to Newark -- is the brainchild of Newark Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka and a group of activists from across the country, including Baye Adolfo Wilson, project director of the proposed Museum of African American Music in Newark.

Although politically conscious hip-hop had its heyday in the early 1990s, Baraka believes the genre can still prompt social action.

"It's not just about 'bling,'" he said. "The convention is a way to bring the idea that there are some political voices in hip-hop that are mature and responsible and ready to make some changes. The music itself had in its very beginning a social and political context."

Fresh, best known for party anthems like "The Show/La Di Da Di" (1985), agrees. "My activism is different than what I rap about," he said. "But I try to get involved in education issues, in drug abuse prevention and in kids taking responsibility for their actions."

In the early 1980s, Fresh, now a married father of four, got famous as the founder of the rapid-fire "human beat-box" technique, in which he imitated drum and synthesizer sounds.

It was a talent Fresh discovered as a teen growing up in Harlem, where he still lives. " I would do it when I was in the house, and someone said you should do it outside," he said. "I did, and everyone's mind was blown."

These days, Fresh tours internationally, often with Slick Rick. This summer he is to release an album called "The World's Greatest Entertainer."("I'm called that because my stage show is so intense.")

His advice to aspiring human beat-boxes?

"Do it on your own until you get real good. Because everyone is going to think it's annoying until then."

This article first appeared at The Star Ledger. Carrie Stetler is a staff writer for The Star Ledger.

Copyright 2004 The Star-Ledger

Friday, June 11, 2004

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