NEW YORK — Curtis Sherrod knows there's power in numbers. So when he decided to organize more than 100 rappers and poets in a 24-hour rap marathon where no cursing is allowed, he saw only the good that could come from it.
"There's a feeling of fellowship and communal family spirit that's generated when people are talking about positive things, about peace, about creativity," says Sherrod, co-founder of the Global Artists Coalition, a New York nonprofit organization dedicated to career development for young people.
"It affects your mentality. Just in the same way if you heard [lyrics about] bang-bang shoot-shoot for a couple of hours, you'd leave feeling a certain way. [The positive messages] have to affect you."
Rapper Kool Herc, credited as the founder of hip-hop, is set to kick off tonight's "rap-a-thon," a fundraiser for Harlem's Hip-Hop Culture Center, the city's first permanent hip-hop exhibit and the community center established by the GAC. Organizers hope to raise about $250,000, which would enable the center to operate with daily business hours. Currently, groups can visit the center only by appointment.
Given recent debates on the usage of the N-word and increasing scrutiny of violence and misogyny in rap in the wake of the Don Imus scandal, organizers hope this event shows hip-hop in a different light.
"We want to demonstrate that hip-hop can do something that's positive in nature ... without cursing, without foul language," says Terry Nelson, the other founder of the GAC.
"It's all about balance," Sherrod adds. "People who want record deals will make records that will allow them to get a record deal. But you can't use the rappers who choose to go that route as a blanket statement for all rappers. For every [gangsta rapper], there's 10 other rappers that are trying to do positive things."
In addition to the rap-a-thon, local politicians and business owners are set to conduct a dinner seminar on the importance of young people exploring other career interests in case their aspirations of becoming a rapper or DJ don't pan out.
"We're showing kids that having a plan B is necessary, that they shouldn't put all their eggs in one basket because entertainment can be an unstable industry," says Raqiyah Mays, a host on New York City hip-hop station WQHT-FM.