Artists, music executives, religious leaders, and politicians came out in full force Thursday for the Hip-Hop Action Network’s West Coast summit to address issues and needs facing the community. The mini-summit, held at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., is a precursor to the next national summit, set for June. On hand were the event’s organizers, Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons and Benjamin Muhammad, as well as TV and radio personality Steve Harvey, the DOC, DJ Quik, former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry, Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, among others.
Farrakhan, who delivered the keynote speech, called on hip-hop artists to take responsibility for their roles in society and become teachers of today’s youth. “All the children, they can’t read ‘Dick and Jane,’ but they can recite your raps,” Farrakhan said. “They are 3 years old, and they start quoting you. … Suppose you started teaching children in your raps knowledge that the children need to know (in order) to fight in a racist society?”
Farrakhan encouraged artists to stay away from negative urban images that involve money, drugs, pimps and whores and focus on strength and peace. “Pimpin’, all that kind of stuff, keeps you on a level where you can be dealt with,” he said. “They arrest whores; they arrest pimps.”
Farrakhan also issued a plea to record executives to help bring about change. “Don’t have my brothers and sisters singing this crap when you don’t accept it yourself,” he said.
Knight and Dr. Dre were scheduled to deliver the opening remarks together, but neither arrived on time. Knight, who made his appearance after Farrakhan’s speech, addressed such issues as forming a union and providing pension and health care plans to hip-hop artists. He also criticized the role of East Coast rappers, including Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, in the national summit, which one bystander said will fuel the East Coast/West Coast rivalry in the rap world.
During closed-door meetings, attendees discussed such issues as political and economic empowerment, censorship and the success of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s parental advisory labeling system. The inaugural national Hip-Hop Summit took place last June in New York and was organized by Simmons, Combs, Muhammad, Dave Mays, RIAA chief Hilary Rosen, and Jermaine Dupri.