Rap and R&B songs and videos often glorify sexy lifestyles without any safe-sex caveats. But on Tuesday, some of the genres’ biggest stars will perform at “UrbanAID2,” a benefit concert to raise awareness about AIDS among blacks and Hispanics.
“Specifically in terms of AIDS, no one has done enough and we all could do more,” said hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, co-chairman of the event with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
The concert, to be held Tuesday night at the Beacon Theatre, will feature rappers Combs, Jay-Z, Fat Joe and Ja Rule, along with singers Musiq, Ashanti, Alicia Keys and the hip-hop band the Roots.
“There are still a lot of people who are not cognizant of the real threat that it represents,” said Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots.
Of the roughly 774,000 AIDS cases through 2000, blacks and Hispanics accounted for 58 percent of them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. (Perhaps the biggest rap or R&B star to succumb to AIDS was Eazy-E of N.W.A. fame. He died in 1995 at 31.)
The concert represents the growing push to get more urban music stars engaged in preventing the disease.
Several rap and R&B stars such as Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige have been involved in public campaigns or benefits. And Destiny’s Child and Monica have done public service announcements.
The images and messages that are more prevalent, however, are the videos that suggest multiple sex partners or lyrics that overtly promote sex. Jay-Z, one of the event’s performers, has rapped about having “raw” – or unsafe – sex.
But rather than take artists to task, LIFEBeat, a nonprofit organization that galvanizes the music industry against AIDS, has worked hard to employ them to spread the message of safe sex and AIDS prevention.
“When we look at the sheer numbers of HIV infections in the urban communities, it’s clear to us that the message of prevention needs to be stronger and more direct,” said Alan Fields, LIFEBeat’s executive director.
LIFEBeat, which raises about $1.8 million annually, teamed up with BET for its “Rap It Up” campaign, which includes public service announcements featuring a somber Ja Rule reciting stark statistics about AIDS.
Whether such messages will become part of the music is another question.
“I think it has to happen organically. You can’t tell an artist what to say,” Simmons said.
Thompson conceded that the urban music community has not been as vocal as it could be.
“We haven’t done (anything),” he said. “It’s not even scratching the surface, and that’s not even coming from a moralistic standpoint.”
The only other UrbanAID concert was in 1995; yet, Thompson said, the focus should be on the artists’ actions instead of their lyrics.
“The fact that it’s getting done in the first place is worthy of praise,” he said.
Tuesday’s concert is expected to raise about $100,000, and MTV will feature footage from the concert for an eventual television special.