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Hip-Hop Leaders to Hold Next Summit in L.A.

January 13, 2002|STEVE HOCHMAN

Leaders of the nation's hip-hop community will hold a "mini-summit" in Los Angeles on Feb. 13 and 14 to address issues of social activism and intra-community conflicts as well as to explore how hip-hop figures can have an effect on the coming off-year elections.

The conclave, being convened by Island Def Jam Chairman Russell Simmons and Minister Ben Muhammad, is expected to draw Dr. Dre, Suge Knight and other California hip-hop figures, along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), radio personalities Steve Harvey and Big Boy, and former gang member-turned-activist Mike Concepcion. The meeting will lay the groundwork for a larger national-level summit to be held in L.A. in June as a follow-up to last year's first National Hip-Hop Summit in New York.

"One thing we're hearing from many artists is that they want to become more involved in the social and political transformation of American society, as well as economic," says New York-based Muhammad, president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a nonprofit entity developed last year to tackle issues of concern in hip-hop.

Among the initiatives that have grown out of last year's summit are an urban literacy program sponsored by Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment, mentoring programs for aspiring artists administered by Def Jam, Bad Boy and other labels, an initiative to increase and promote parental advisory stickering of CDs, and advertising and lobbying efforts on 1st Amendment and civil rights issues. On that issue, the organization also established Nu America, the first national hip-hop political action committee.

At the same time, Muhammad says, hip-hop has been moving toward more prominent social consciousness in lyrics and artists' stances--something that has been in its fabric with such rap pioneers as Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy, but which often was obscured by materialistic attitudes. He points to such artists as DMX who have increased such content in their songs, and the ratings success of the Simmons-produced HBO "Poetry Jam" series. "DMX, on his 'The Great Depression' album, has a song that says, 'We don't know who we be,' and in the lyrics it talks about the importance of challenging homelessness, challenging the hurt and pain that many who live in urban centers experience," he says. "And it's about changing it, not just describing it. This is pivotal." Atypical of hip-hop, though, Simmons says he hopes these summits, especially the February gathering, do not draw a lot of media coverage.

"We want to put a lot of energy into internal issues of hip-hop [at the February meeting] and deal with bigger national issues [in June]," Simmons says. "Some of the issues are integral to the survival of hip-hop, and it has to be dealt with delicately. The last summit had more media than we needed. But since that summit there's been a lot of dialogue among artists, and less conflict because Ben has been working with the artists on conflict resolution.

"The amount of work that has been done since the first summit is mind-boggling. But there's still a long way to go. Hip-hop can be the savior in protecting poor people more than people imagine. There's a new consciousness coming everywhere. We don't expect Snoop Dogg to be a leader, but we're getting more and more tapes from artists who want to address these things."

LABOR OF LOVE: In recent years there's been a lot of talk about a lost spirit in the music business, with all the corporate mergers changing the tone and goals. But a team built around a core of veterans of A&M Records (before it was absorbed into Interscope two years ago) has come together to market and promote an album in that old spirit--and the team members are all working for free.

The album is "Spirit Touches Ground" by Josh Clayton-Felt, and it will be released by DreamWorks Records on Feb. 5 with marketing and promotion provided by various independent consultants. The reason is that these people had all worked with Clayton-Felt, a Los Angeles musician who passed away two years ago at 32 from complications of cancer. He had completed the recordings of what was to be his second solo album shortly before he was hospitalized for his illness.

"It's a fair amount of work, but this is what we do," says Diana Leher, who had been Clayton-Felt's product manager at A&M and now, with partner Kelly Mills, another former A&M executive, has an independent music marketing firm called Alchemy. "Josh was one of the truly nicest people I ever met, and there was no artifice about that--and there's the fact that we really dug his music. So when we started working on this project, we rounded up the old troops."

Among other A&M vets involved are former head of artist development Larry Weintraub, who now has an Internet marketing firm, and former head of alternative promotion Jack Isquith, now an independent consultant.

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