Hip-Hop Fridays: Hip-Hop Summits Explore Cultural Impact by Mark Brown
Rap music executive and former DJ "Big Jon" Platt has watched the music he loves and helps nurture finally become an undeniable force in U.S. culture.
"From radio stations to television to all media, all walks of life have finally embraced hip-hop. This is the new rock 'n' roll. This is the new pop music," Platt says.
Best friend and hip-hop producer Jermaine Dupri takes it further. "(Hip-hop) is not really being embraced by the mainstream — it is the mainstream."
While rock music continues to be the biggest seller, raking in nearly twice as much money as rap, it's hip-hop and the culture around it that we hear every day.
"You hear it in McDonald's commercials. The most corporate Fortune 500 company is embracing hip-hop. I see the walls coming down every day," says superstar rapper Jay-Z.
"Hip is the main word of the phrase. That's what every kid in the world — black, white, Chinese, everybody — they want to be hip, regardless of what it is. Clothing, basketball, whatever. That's why Michael Jordan sells so many sneakers," Dupri says.
"Whether it be McDonald's, whether it be Hawaiian Punch, whether it be anything, a sneaker company, they all know the best way to sell it is through what the kids love the most. And kids love this hip-hop music."
The mainstreaming of hip-hop may be best exemplified by Snoop Dogg. Once the most feared, menacing figure in the game, he's now the funniest part of the new Starsky and Hutch movie.
"When you're young you make foolish mistakes. You have to keep up some kind of persona," Jay-Z says. "As you get older and more mature, you know all that is silly."
Platt got his start spinning discs in Denver, which will host a Hip-Hop Summit May 15. A series of summits will be held this summer, gathering stars and fans to discuss the cultural and political impact of hip-hop.
When Platt left for Los Angeles in 1993, Denver hip-hop "wasn't a genre that was on the radio. Denver wasn't a quote-unquote 'hip-hop town,' so there were no venues to go hear it," Platt says.
Then Platt read Don Passman's industry bible, "All You Need to Know About the Music Business," and settled on management — the one aspect of the industry that he could see required no start-up money.
That decision led to a job doing A&R and copyrights with EMI Publishing. And now Platt is senior vice president, creative, of EMI publishing, and a senior vice president at Virgin Records.
Too often, he says, kids "don't dream because they don't see anything to dream about. . . .Now the hip-hop generation is in the leagues now. They're in the NFL, they're in baseball, they're in basketball. They party where everyone else parties ... It helps. You see that there's more to life than a 9-to-5, and more to dream about," Platt says.
For his part, Williams was happy to meet with the kids.
"We know where we come from and we know that we get it from God. At the end of the day, that's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to give it back," says Williams.
Communication is key, Willliams says.
"There's local cooperation and there's also kids studying their music and learning about it so they can take on their own identities and incorporate what it is they have locally into their music. . .Any education about the culture that fans can get is essential. "These children need guidance, they need direction. That's what something like this can do in many different ways," Williams says.
"I speak on panels all the time. It's one of the things I truly love to do," Platt says.
"Part of my dream started by going to these same conferences. You have to go to those panels ready to learn. It's not the place to go to get autographs. Those are places where the people who are on those panels, it's a controlled environment where you can catch them. You're not going to catch Russell Simmons on the telephone by just cold-calling him. But (at a conference) you may have a 30-second conversation with him and leave a lasting impression on him."
The world has changed and it's never going back, Dupri says.
"We live in a much hipper world now. Everything about the world is hip. Even the days of blacks making fun about white kids not having rhythm in the club, dancing off-beat, those days are over, know what I mean? I see more white kids with rhythm than I see a lot of black kids. We live in a hipper America," Dupri says.
The changes are far more sweeping than what you hear on the radio or TV, says Dupri. "The voting for the president will never be where we want it to be until one of us runs for president. The kids will vote for me. The kids would vote for Puff Daddy."
"The kids would vote for somebody that they think will really do something that's going to affect them. Kids at school right now, they don't have nothing in common with George Bush.
"That's why the Hip-Hop Summit is so strong and is becoming massive. Finally, these hip-hoppers are talking about politics, and they say it in a way where the kids are listening," Dupri says.
Upcoming Hip-Hop Summits:
May 15 — Denver Coliseum
May 22 — Detroit, Fox Theatre
June 3 — Columbus, Ohio, Ohio State University
June 5 — New Jersey, site TBA
June 17 — New Orleans, site TBA
July 13 — Bronx, N.Y, Lehman College (Latino Hip-Hop Summit)
Note: Mark Brown is a writer for Scripps Howard News Service where this article first appeared
Friday, May 14, 2004