Another jam-packed day of sessions greeted attendees on the second day (Oct. 14) of the Revolt Music Conference — the highlight of which was the consciousness-raising panel “Hip-Hop Vs. Trump.”
Live-streamed from the Ocean Tower I ballroom at the Eden Roc Miami Beach, the 45-minute session went into overtime for another 15-20 minutes as artists, activists and journalists — plus an impassioned audience — discussed ways to harness the power of hip-hop to effectively challenge and foster change in the Trump era. Heated conversation points ranged from racism in America, the NFL knee controversy and Jemele Hill’s suspension from ESPN to advertiser boycotts, African Americans’ high unemployment rate (quoted as now three-times higher than whites’ since Trump took office) and gearing up to support favored candidates in the forthcoming mid-term elections.
“I’m actually grateful for Trump,” declared artist/activity David Banner, early in the town hall-style discussion. “I haven’t seen black people this engaged in the political process in my whole life.”
Added fellow artist T.I., “I have kids and I couldn’t look in their eyes if I didn’t try to institute change.” The Atlanta-based rapper recently led a boycott of Houston’s restaurants in that city over racism allegations.
Jeff Johnson, CEO of JIJ Communications, moderated the “tribe” (his description) of panelists that stretched across the stage. In addition to Banner and T.I., the congregation included artists Joey Bada$$ and Mysonne, National Action Network/San Diego president Rev. Shane Harris, Vibe editor in chief Datwon Thomas, Mass Appeal executive editor Rob Kenner, XXL editor-in-chief Vanessa Satten, social and digital media marketing strategist Karen Civil and Revolt TV host/writer/producer Shaheem Reid.
Watch the panel here (courtesy of Revolt TV).
To fervent applause and shouts, Joey Bada$$ said, “What’s missing is that we haven’t found a way yet to respond as a body of people. We’re on Twitter and other places, but there’s no team in our response. We need to pull together more.” Applauding Joey’s comments, XXL’s Satten added, “It seems very hard to involve the younger group to be as passionate. There are definitely some rappers who are doing their part. But I don’t know if we have a musical revolution now as we had in the ’60s during the civil rights movement.”
Audience member Tamika D. Mallory, co-chair of the Women’s March, pointedly challenged everyone to do their part moving forward. Mallory noted that the Women’s March raised $3 million without “one corporate dollar period” through average donations of $25. Addressing the room, she said, “You’ve got makeup on, wearing nice clothes but we have to ask, ‘Are we supporting the people really doing the work?’ Having this one panel and then not continuing the dialogue in our communities on a regular level is problematic. Forget about what white people are doing or what Trump is doing. What are you doing?”
The second day of panels opened with “Atlantic Records Presents 1633.” A team of six senior executives from the storied label (1633 refers to its New York City office address) gave audience members an inside look at the operations of major label, encompassing marketing/brand partnerships (Joi Brown, Marsha St. Hubert), record promotion (Juliette Jones), A&R (Lanre Gaba), publicity (Sydney Margetson) and lifestyle/influencer marketing (Jordan Chalmers). Not surprisingly, chief among the talking points was the record-setting rise of rapper Cardi B., who recently hit the top of the Hot 100 with “Bodak Yellow.
In discussing Cardi B’s evolution from reality show star to rap star, St. Hubert noted how as part of that process she would request that media talk to Cardi B as a recording artist like a Gucci Mane. “’But she’s not Gucci Mane,’” St. Hubert recalls media reporters telling her. “But I’d say to me she is,” added St. Hubert. In answer to an audience query about Atlantic signing Danielle Bregoli (aka Bhad Bhabie), Gaba responded, “It will be about her doing the grind and proving herself.
Uber’s first chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John shared insights on “How to Build Your Personal Brand in Corporate America.” Referencing her marketing career, which includes senior executive posts with Pepsi and Apple Music, Saint John talked about how her father questioned her decision to leave Apple for Uber.
“I’m walking in faith,” said Saint John, who noted that an important part of anyone’s journey is about owning who you are and being unapologetically true to yourself in environments that might not necessarily accept you for who you are. Among her goals at Uber is to humanize the company beyond its technology, tying in the pop culture revolving around music, fashion, sports and entertainment and diversity. Asked where she wants to see the company a year from now, Saint John said, “If the numbers haven’t changed, then I’ve failed.”
Rounding out the day were sessions involving artist management (“Watch the Throne”), moderated by Combs’ manager James Cruz, and how to produce a hit (“It’s a Vibe”), which featured producer and songwriter panelists Pusha T, Detail, LaShawn Daniels and Murda Beatz, among others.
Revolt chairman Combs put the exclamation point on the day with his own session, “State of the Union: How to Get the Bag!” After walking onstage to thunderous applause and cheers, Combs imparted lessons learned during his career trajectory. “You definitely have to be a bit crazy,” explained Combs about his vision starting out. “Your faith and belief also have to be crazy because you have to see it and manifest it to be there. Then everything really started to go when I combined the reality of what it would take to make my dream happen.”
Despite the noteworthy achievements he’s accomplished, Combs declared he’s still as hungry “as anybody in here.” Case in point: now that Antonio “L.A.” Reid no longer helms Epic Records — with which Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment signed an exclusive partnership deal in 2015 — Combs announced new plans for his company.
“I want to pursue my vision and dream of being independent. Later as the forum was drawing to a close, a question was posed about the biggest issue facing hip-hop. Without hesitation, Combs stated, “What to do with the power that we have.”