Can't Stop, Won't Stop

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

Woodrow J. Hinton

"It's been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come"

— Sam Cooke

I should feel some sense of vindication at seeing the cover of this month's XXL Magazine. Guest edited by the hugely successful comedian/social critic Dave Chappelle, the issue features a roundtable discussion between Chappelle and his "Hip Hop all-stars" — Common, Talib Kweli, dead prez and Kanye West (The Roots, while not included on the cover shot, also appear on Chappelle's Show regularly).

It is no coincidence that all of the rappers (to varying degrees) espouse similar political and cultural themes in their music, and, as frequent guest performers on the show, provide the perfect soundtrack for Chappelle's hilarious social commentary. Somehow, Chappelle has been able to convince the suits at Comedy Central that bridging sharp, visceral humor with non-mainstream Hip Hop would translate into ratings. Looks like Chappelle, Comedy Central and the millions of viewers who tune in weekly actually get it.

Which brings me to my next point: At the local level, I should have known when the unfortunate shooting at this year's Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration cast a dark cloud over what would ordinarily have been a pleasant family outing, that the Cincinnati National Hip Hop Summit would surely face an uphill battle. In the minds of some city officials (most likely not huge fans of Chappelle's Show) the idea of such an event likely conjured images of a gun-toting sea of white (and pink?) T-shirts and profane Rap music pouring from caravans of tricked out Escalades.

Apparently, our youth aren't the only ones influenced by the mass media.

Having already heard rumblings about the challenges summit organizers faced, I was in Washington, D.C., for the Labor Day weekend by the time I had an opportunity to sit down and read Mildred C. Fallen's piece on the then forthcoming event (see "Sweat Blood Until You Sweat," issue of Sept. 1, 2004).

The Cincinnati National Hip Hop Summit, organized by Ra Ra Enterprises President/CEO Rakwaun Bivins, Nicole "Miss Nicky" Mack of Diva Day Designs and others, was created with the goal of bringing a positive focus to Hip Hop music and culture for area youth. I was privileged to review one of the original incarnations of the event charter a few months back and was astonished by the emphasis placed on the historical and cultural (as opposed to material) impact that Hip Hop music brings and, in fact, was invited to participate on a panel discussion entitled Hip Hop Consciousness. Bivins, with his army of poets, musicians and Hip Hop performers (including the unwaveringly conscious Watusi Tribe) intended to harness some of the momentum and positive energy gained at June's Hip Hop Political Convention in New Jersey. Like Scribble Jam a few weeks earlier, this event would once again place the Midwest's underground movement on the map.

That's about the time somebody invoked the nasty 4080 rule: due to a series of last minute venue cancellations and changes (most of which were described in Fallen's article), several of the summit's events were derailed. It began to look like the Hip Hop Matrix had again reared its ugly head.

But that's the beautiful thing about Hip Hop culture. Our historians know that anyone who "is" Hip Hop starts from little or nothing. It's nearly impossible for anything true to the culture to not start in this manner.

We also know that Cincinnati has the potential to host large scale, positive events targeted towards the "Hip Hop demographic"; in fact, the recent Ohio Classic and Jamboree represents one such example. Half-time artists J-Kwon, Twista and Ludacris — while not poster boys for lyrical gangsterism — aren't necessarily Nickelodeon rappers either. Despite this fact, their performances (and the entire event) proceeded without any report of gang- or territory-related violence.

Certainly, a local Hip Hop summit about spirituality, self-knowledge and political activism shouldn't be a cause for concern. Unless ... no, that couldn't be it!

I had a chance to catch up with Bivins (known to his many friends and associates as simply "Roc") after returning to Cincinnati. Dismayed — yet determined — might best describe his tone as he recalled the many challenges leading up to the three-day event. Ultimately, he felt that the summit was successful thanks to the many area youths who were able to participate in discussions about positive images, politics, culture and spirituality.

A few years back, Nasir Jones told us that all it took was "one mic." So, if one teen or young adult walked away from the Cincinnati National Hip Hop Summit with a new perspective on the importance of his or her role in this culture, then all of those forces that would stand in the way of such an admirable goal have been defeated.

Now that's what Hip Hop is all about.

KEVIN BRITTON writes about Hip Hop music and its impact on popular culture. His column appears monthly in CityBeat.