York hosts hip-hoppers at national youth summit

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As York College prepared to start the fall semester Friday, a handful of old-school rappers and new hip-hoppers got a lesson from about 1,000 teens at the National Hip-Hop Youth Summit.

The teens got a chance to voice their concerns about social and political issues ranging form AIDS to education, prisons to business, and they got to ask how the hip-hop industry can help.

The summit, organized by the Laurelton-based Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council, was aimed at using the hip-hop movement as a tool to change society, said Benjamin Muhammad, president of the National Hip-Hop Youth Council.

“It is indisputable that hip-hop has an enormous amount of influence over young people, and it cuts across racial lines,” he said. “If you utilize what has already gotten the attention of young people, it can become a powerful force.”

The event featured workshops in which teens discussed their views on topics like politics, sex, drugs, violence, criminal justice, and education. The workshops focused on teaching the teens to speak out, Muhammad said.

“I think the young people are thankful that someone’s listening to them,” he said. “We’re not making a lot of speeches here. We want to hear what they have to say.”

Five questions from each workshop were brought to the celebrity panel, which included rapper Kurtis Blow, Rah Sun, Mr. Magic and the Kangol Kid from rap group UTFO, as well as Muhammad and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans).

The common comment from the groups was a call to the artists to support the community and educate fans on everything from AIDS prevention to business opportunities.

“Entertainers have a commitment,” said Blow. “Once you hit fame, you have a responsibility to teach. We’re like icons of the community.”

The panel urged the young people in the audience to keep participating and taking an active role in the community.

“We all have to be participants, not onlookers, participants to change in our communities,” Muhammad said.

One of the biggest concerns was the negative images, such as the objectification of women, violence, and drug use, that are often associated with hip-hop. Aside from the bad reputation the hip-hop community is developing, the negative images are being passed to a younger generation as being acceptable, said Charles Fisher, founder of the Hip-Hop Youth Summit Council.

“I blame myself and you as parents,” he said of the negativity that has permeated the music. “Parents are responsible for what’s going on. It’s our job to police ourselves.”

Panel member Rah Sun told the audience to find power in their purchases and choose music that does not put others down.

“When you keep hip-hop simple and about partying, it stays there,” he said. “You got to use your better judgment. If a song puts a brother or a sister down, even if it’s catchy, don’t buy it.”

Thabiti Boone, one of the day’s workshop moderators, said boycotting negative music will get artists attention, based on the principal of supply and demand.

“You have to be very sure that you don’t destroy those that love you,” Boone said of the artists.

The panel session of the day also featured proclamations declaring government support for the summit, which were presented by Meeks, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), and City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

“Being an elected official, we cannot move forward without knowing we have someone coming up behind us,” Comrie said. “This is another opportunity for you to find your voice.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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