Hip-hop has transcended urban street corners to the mainstream of American culture. When the music first hit the scene music critics called it a fad that would disappear almost as quickly as it came.

However, hip-hop has stood up to the test of time and has crossed over to mainstream culture in a big way. Radio and television commercials are filled with jingles laced with hip-hop flavor.

Hip-hop is a billion-dollar industry now that sells everything from Tommy Hilfiger to Mistic drinks. It appears that hip-hop is everywhere and affecting the way Americans walk, talk and act.

In hip-hop's early days, its followers said the music reflected reality. It was nothing to hear an artist rapping about social issues or encouraging young people to fight the powers that be.

Bryan Simmons, 34, says that he has been listening to hip-hop for more than 20 years. "Hip-hop has definitely had an influence on me," he said. "It helped to open eyes to a lot of things growing up. The music opened my eyes to what was going on in the world. It made me look at what was on in the world. It broadened my perspective."

Simmons says that when he was younger he tried to live out the lyrics in his favorite songs. "I used to listen to Chuck D and Public Enemy," he said. "They were talking about things that people were scared to say and they were talking about loving each other. I became more concerned about loving my people and doing something for my people. I still try to show love to my people. And I still desire to do things for my people." "Hip-hop hipped me to what was really going on in the world. It was reality music. "

Last month in The Post, a local drug dealer, named Monroe said "money
clothes and ho's" was the reason he started selling drugs - the lyrics from a song by the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. Monroe's justification for selling drugs is one reason some blame a number of the ills in American society on hip hop.

Cedric Muhammad, publisher of Blackelectorate.com said: "As much as art can depict reality, I think hip-hop accomplishes that. But what makes hip-hop so much different is that it's an art form that depicts a reality - the inner-city cultural life of black youth - that was ignored.

Of course there are many who glorify, magnify and distort various aspects of that experience and then there are others who use hip-hop as a vehicle to display the depths of human creativity and imagination."

Hip-hop journalist and author Kevin Powell says that all black music reflects reality "be it the field hollers we had on those slave plantations, the blues of Bessie Smith, the moans of Marvin Gaye, or hip-hop today." "The problem is that corporate America in the form of
record labels and radio stations have come to dominate the cultural production of hip-hop in such a way that it has been reduced to the latest form of the obsession with money and jewelry, videos that are really mini-soft porn films, etc."

"There was a time when there was an incredible diversity in hip-hop music, roughly between the years 1987 and 1992, or what some of us call that Golden Era had a strong black nationalist sentiment manifested by groups like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and even the anti-police brutality song"FÜ- Tha Police by N.W.A."

Because much of music that hits the airwaves now is filled with materialism and violence, a number of people think the art form has a negative affect on black youth. Muhammad says that hip-hop has a circular effect on black youth "which means it has a casual impact as much as it provides a reflective vehicle as well."

"Hip-hop raised the consciousness of black youth in terms of Afrocentricity in the late 1980s and early '90s and it also popularized marijuana as never before. Whichever youth are signed by the major labels and make the most popular music and have the best marketing end up being the leaders of the world's youth, whether they like it or not. They can lead the sheep in whatever direction they like."

Simmons says that hip-hop's influence on the culture is more than ever before. "The messages in the music have changed," he said. "So it's influence may not be such a great thing. Now, along with its positive messages of love it's also full of getting over, misogyny, and bling-blinging. The messages focus on being superficial. I see a lot of people that
are superficial and they listen to the hip-hop that's superficial."

"In a country - America - where popular culture has become the chief way a lot of young people, be they black, white, or other are educated, via television, movies and radio, it is little wonder that hip hop has come to influence a lot young people and how they think,"
Powell said.

"This speaks to the incredible power of hip-hop as a tool of communication and it also speaks to the fact that the powers-that-be, in their rush to profit from all of hip-hop as a tool of communication. And it also speaks to the fact that the powers-that be, in their rush to profit from all forms of technology, cultural production, and the latest trend, could care less that we essentially now live in a country where a lot of folks know little to nothing about American history, except sound bites and holidays. This is particularly acute for young African Americans because we remain, in spite of the so-called gains of the Civil Rights Movement, near the bottom of America's socio-economic ladder."

Simmons says today's music is watered down. "Hip-hop still influences people like it influenced me," he said. "The music has lost something. The music used to influence people. Now the music is being influenced by money and the idea of following the American dream. This music used to set standards for the community. It still sets standards, but it's commercial. It's not as grassroots like it was. The music was once about the people.

"In many ways hip-hop has blown up. But with its success and commercialization its success has taken away from what made it so powerful. It's stronger in some degrees and weaker in others."

Powell says it's unfair to scapegoat hip-hop for America's ills. "America was founded on racism, sexism, classism, theft of (Africans') labor and (Native Americans') land and violence. That is its root. And those are the things that continue to propel this country. And these things existed way before hip-hop ever came on the scene," he said. "So for anyone to scapegoat hip-hop for America's ills says to me that person is ahistorical and eager to blame today's young black people for the moral degradation of America. What hip-hop is, is a mirror reflection of this society. And hip-hop is the music of the people at the bottom of this nation, in spite of it now being a billion-dollar industry with successful businesspeople like Puffy (Combs), Russell Simmons or Queen Latifah. It is still an expression of freedom for poor folks, like the blues and jazz before it.

"I think if people are really concerned about the ills of society, do not shoot the messengers, the rappers. Why not ask why is it we still live in a country where it is OK to be racist, OK to be sexist, OK to be classist, OK to sell violence in the form of blockbuster movies and video games and OK to profit from the misery and confusion of young people who call themselves rappers and have little or no clue that they are being pimped by corporate America?"

"Hip-Hop's Lost Flava" is reprinted from The Charlotte Post, Ms. Burch's e-mail address is charpost@mindspring.com


FEBRUARY 15, 2002 Los Angeles, CA -- With the introduction of new ideas, a record of progress and challenging points of view, the first West Coast Hip-Hop Summit accomplished its goals to convene and unite the diverse voices within the hip-hop community. Organized by Hip-Hop Summit Action Network President Minister Benjamin Muhammad to facilitate constructive dialogue between and among the West Coast hip-hop leaders, the over-capacity crowd at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills drew such luminaries as Hip-Hop Summit Action Network Chairman Russell Simmons; LA..ex-gang leader, conflict resolution activist and record producer Michael Concepcion; national radio and television personality Steve Harvey; Tha Row Records CEO Suge Knight; the RIAA's Suzan Jenkins; Bay area radio personality Davey D; and hip-hop artists Kurupt; Xzibit; DJ Quik; Mack 10; the D.O.C.; Irv Gotti; the Outlawz; Queen Pen; Keith Murray; Ed Lover; the Fatcats; the Eastsidaz; M.O.T.; Michel'le and Boo Ya Tribe. "A Summit is where diverse forces come together and that's what you saw today," commented Minister Benjamin on Thursday. "You saw the compassionate side and the raw side of hip-hop. You saw the focus on economics and the side that focuses on social transformation. And it's all good because it makes up the diversity of the hip-hop nation."

Added Michael Concepcion: "You had some of the most serious kids from the streets representing for the industry. These were mortal enemies sitting together. But this wasn't about being a gang member; these kids came in with a business mind. For them to listen and bite their tongues was a feat in itself. They ARE the reality of what the rappers rap about."

"The Hip-Hop generation has the real power, but in order to realize your true potential you must do what is right not just what is popular," the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said in the Hip-Hop Summit's Keynote Address. Referencing the experiences of "black, brown, yellow and the poor white in America," Minister Farrakhan challenged the hip-hop artists in attendance to 1) take responsibility for their music and lyrics and to use them for progressive, social change 2) arouse the thinking of all young people around the world to be peacemakers and not to become pawns in unjust wars and 3) remind everyone that adversity is the mother of creativity. DJ Quik, stirred by the Minister's speech, wrote the following: "I was moved by the Minister's glow (natural flicker). I hope we keep this real. 'Adversity IS the mother of creativity.'"

There was an obvious continuity between this West Coast Hip-Hop Summit and last June's National Hip-Hop Summit in New York. As a result of responding to the theme "Taking Back Responsibility," Minister Muhammad pointed to the growth in speaking the truth reflected in rap songs, videos, poetry and other art forms. "I have noticed an since last June an evolution in the lyrics. Look at DMX in his latest joint, 'We Don't Know Who We Be,' where he talks about his pain and his suffering. He came up with this phenomenal lyric - now being played all over radio - about people who live in poverty having hope. I've seen young people in impoverished situations utilize hip-hop to do better in school and to take better care of their family."

The following are the results of the closed-session discussions:

Political Empowerment: Agreement was reached with representatives of Rap The Vote and the National Black Youth Vote Coalition to focus the energy and the talent of the hip-hop community on a massive voter' registration and education drive. In addition, the attendees to the Summit pledged support for the ongoing development of the Hip-Hop Political Action Committee and the increase efforts in lobbying members of Congress on issues important to the hip-hop community.

Hip-Hop Responds to Federal Regulatory Agencies: A unanimous vote was taken by the Summit participants to support the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network' efforts to assist spoken-word artist Sarah Jones in her lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC had issued a fine against KBOO-FM, a Portland, Oregon community radio station that played the Sarah Jones song, "Your Revolution," a piece that uses references from male rap lyrics to denounce misogyny and the degradation of women in a lot of popular hip-hop songs.

Economic Empowerment: Suge Knight made a proposal for the creation of a hip-hop and R&B artist union which would be organized to insure health care, pension, retirement funds and other benefits for the artists. The measure was not voted on but widely discussed.

The Success of Parental Advisory Labeling: Suzan Jenkins, a national consultant for the Recording Industry Association of America, reported on the progress of the RIAA's Parental Advisory Labeling on the marketing of music with explicit content.

"There was passionate drama and there was emotion, but there were people who said the West Coast Summit couldn' take place. Well we did come together in that room for hours and hours and reached a consensus on how we are going to work together and how we are going to move forward to the National Summit. I want to make it known that we at the Hip-Hop Summit are accomplishing something, and we are consistently moving forward. It's not just a lot of talk. We make promises to the hip-hop community and we are living up to them," concluded Russell Simmons.

Friday, February 15, 2002