Rappers promote King’s message of non-violence

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There was hip-hop hysteria at York College in Jamaica Monday as more than 1,000 young people lined up outside the college hoping to see a famous rapper and attend a youth summit honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The event was organized by Charles Fisher, founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council, an off-shoot of the same Hip-Hop Summit Action Network that held a closed-door meeting in Manhattan last year to discuss the future of the $2 billion industry.

Fisher said the event was scheduled for King’s birthday “so people would not always associate hip-hop with violence and other negative things.”

He said the goal of the youth council is to empower young people socially, politically and economically with the help of artists and others involved in the hip-hop industry.

“Hip-hop is ready to do its part to improve the lives of young people,” Fisher said. “Queens is going to be the foundation of this movement.”

As hip-hop music played in the background, Fisher welcomed several elected officials to the stage and spoke about King’s life. But the hundreds of young people packed into the college’s performing arts center cheered and chanted for Nas, a hot young rapper from Queensbridge, who made a brief appearance to receive an award at the end of the event.

“I don’t get a lot of awards,” Nas said, and thanked his fans saying, “I love every last one of you.”

Nas also touched on his high-profile feud with rapper Jay-Z, describing it as “a battle of the minds” and not about violence. “If you love Jay-Z, I love Jay-Z,” Nas said, and the crowd went wild.

Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, and his brother, the Rev. Run, hip-hop pioneers who grew up in Hollis, joined Nas on stage and also received awards from the Hip-Hop Youth Council.

Simmons spoke briefly about the impact of King and the civil rights movement. He encouraged young people to become more politically involved.

Speaking of King, Simmons chastized the young audience for not exercising the rights for which King fought so hard. “He made it so you can vote, and you don’t vote,” Simmons said. “Go out there and vote — take advantage of the opportunities you have.”

Run, who was part of the groundbreaking rap group Run DMC, said, “I believe that everybody in this room has a dream. In 1979, I started out posting fliers on Jamaica Avenue. I put my dream into action. I put my heart into it.”

Run encouraged the young people to go after their dreams and not be consumed by negative peer pressure.

“You don’t have to be a thug in order to make it in this game,” Run said of hip-hop.

Fisher organized the event with State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and Benjamin Chavis, director of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and organizer of the Million Man March on Washington, D.C. in 1995.

Young people from Smith’s Bringing Teens Together organization helped coordinate the event and spoke briefly about restoring King’s dreams of tolerance and non-violence.

Lola Kayode, a member of Bringing Teens Together, said she thought the event was successful and fun.

“It’s great to know that even though they are famous, they still care about us,” she said of the hip-hop stars.

Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson Marching Band performed several hip-hop tunes on their instruments and danced during the only musical performance at the event.

In addition to Smith, whom Fisher called a “hip-hop politician,” U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), City Council members Eric Gioia (D-Woodside), Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) and Tracy Boyland (D-Brooklyn) as well as state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), attended the summit.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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