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Hip-Hop Summit Report

Just six months after Russell Simmons brought together hip-hop artists, recording industry executives, politicians, and civil rights leaders at the Hip-Hop Summit in New York City, Simmons and Hip-Hop Summit Action Network President Minister Benjamin Muhammad report that positive progress has been made on the initiatives drafted during those historic two days.

In what is really the first of its announcements, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network has taken the promising idea of its organization developed at the Summit, and created the infrastructure needed to do its work. The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network is now a registered 501C3 and 501C4 non-profit corporation, with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

On the progress made by the HHSAN, Minister Muhammad says, "By all accounts, the hip-hop community is following through on the promises we made in June. They are taking back responsibility." In addition to the meetings the HHSAN had with Timothy J. Muris, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and Orson Swindle, Commissioner, to open a channel to policymakers in Washington, the fulfillment of the first Summit promise, to increase the visibility of Parental Advisory labeling from CDs to print and television advertising to street marketing to the internet, is being carried out. The RIAA says that voluntary Parental Advisory labeling is up 50 percent, and the FTC acknowledged "This is a promising start and a clear improvement" in Parental Advisory labeling in its recent report on Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children in the Motion Picture, Music Recording, and Electronic Games Industries. "The voluntary parental advisory labeling system is working," Muhammad says. "We are appropriately alerting parents and others concerning explicit content, and at the same time protecting the First Amendment."

The content of music videos on Black Entertainment Television was the subject of much scrutiny in the last few weeks, as The Council of Presidents of the African-American Greek Letter organizations expressed its intent to call for a national boycott of America's premier urban cable channel. The Council, made up of 1.4 million students in African-American Fraternities and Sororities, raised concerns about the "type of videos shown on BET." Responding quickly to support BET, the HHSAN's key music executives sent back a letter on the eve of the vote stating that "We are responsible for the creative content of our music videos that are aired on BET and are open for discussion."

"You and your membership represent the inteligencia of our community," the letter continues. "We respect the gifts that God has given to you. Should not the gifts that God has given to us be also respected? It would be most unfortunate if you would resolve to deny artistic and cultural freedom." With an invitation to meet because "People in our communities would prefer to see us all work together to improve the overall quality of life rather than turn against each other," the letter was signed by Russell Simmons, Chairman Island Def Jam; Kedar Massenburg, CEO Motown; Sean Combs (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy), CEO Bad Boy Entertainment; Tom Silverman, Chairman of Tommy Boy Music; Sylvia Rhone, Chairman of Elektra Entertainment Group; Barry Weiss, President Jive Records; Kevin Liles, President Island Def Jam; Percy Miller (Master P), CEO No Limit Records; Ron Gilyard, Senior Vice President of Urban Music, J Records and Nelly and Missy Elliott. A dialog has begun; the strike has been averted.

Other efforts towards the empowerment of the hip-hop community progressed as well. This fall, the HHSAN, along with the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, created an all-day forum entitled "Hip-Hop Culture and the African American Political Agenda," which focused on voter education and encouraging political empowerment among the hip-hop community. While there, the RIAA bestowed community service awards upon Congressman Earl Hilliard (D-MI), Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) for their contribution to the hip-hop music community.

Since The Source's Dave Mays is one of the founders of the HHSAN, it was strategic that the organization assist in the corralling of community support for this year¹s Source Awards in Miami Beach. The HHSAN was determined to improve the perception of this rap event, while fostering positive relations in Miami. Not only did key members of the HHSAN meet with city officials to create a healthy environment, but they also had conversations with most of the attending rap artists to enhance good will. According to all reports, things went smoothly at the Source Awards show.

All in all, the first six months following the Summit has been fruitful. Says HHSAN Chairman Russell Simmons: "Through our unity and activism, we intend to transform America and the world into a better place. Taking back responsibility for the uplift of the poor and those who are underprivileged is more than just a noble goal; it also makes good business sense. Hip-hop has now grown into an international cultural phenomena and we are now building a world-class action network to achieve worthwhile and measurable goals."