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Hip-Hop Plans Steps To Improve Its Image

Hip-hop, in a push to clean up its image, came out Thursday in favor of warning parents about violent and sexually explicit lyrics and said it would organize politically to help the urban poor.

Rappers, music executives and black leaders at a Hip-Hop Summit in New York said they would label sexually explicit and violent music, as well as Web sites and posters that promote it. They also plan to mentor young rappers, set up hip-hop think tanks, and form a political group to address such issues as free speech and racial profiling.

“One of the things we discussed was how to uplift the image of rap,” hip-hop music mogul and summit organizer Russell Simmons told reporters. “There are many stories about rappers and their cars, but there aren’t many stories about rappers and their charities.”

Hip-hop is one of the fastest-growing music genres in the United States, accounting for $1.84 billion in sales last year out of a $14.3 billion total for the U.S. recording industry, according to industry statistics.

Despite its popularity, it has been attacked by politicians for violent, sexually explicit and misogynistic songs.

Two top-selling rappers – Christopher Wallace, better known as Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac Shakur – were murdered about four years ago, adding to the music’s violent image.

Rappers and black record label producers voiced support for parental advisory guidelines on promotional materials, advertisements and CD covers and said they would post the lyrics to such songs on their Web sites.


“Rather than have the industry interpret the meaning of lyrics, let people read it themselves,” said Hilary Rosen, president and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which supports the labeling system. “The music should speak for itself.”

Older rappers will coach young rappers to develop their talent as part of a program that will also give new artists tutoring and help with financial planning. Simmons’ record label Def Jam/Def Soul is buying a brownstone in Harlem where artists will be able to work without being disturbed by street life.

“We realize how much power we have, and we are prepared to use it in a positive way,” rap impresario Sean “Puffy” Combs told reporters. “We have grown from girls and boys into men and women…. What you are witnessing right now is history.”

Combs was acquitted in March of gun possession and bribery charges stemming from a 1999 New York night club shootout in which three people were wounded.

Tapping into their widespread following, rappers and hip-hop record label heads said they would create a political action committee to push for free speech and raise issues relevant to black, urban areas, where hip hop has its roots. The group would also raise money to back candidates.

“We will bring hip-hop culture to Capitol Hill, and we will bring Capitol Hill to our neighborhoods,” said Mario Velasquez, executive director of Rock the Vote, a voter registration drive by music television network MTV and content developer Brilliant Digital.

Columbia University will be the site of the first hip-hop think tank, black leaders and music executives said. The institution at the Ivy League university in Upper Manhattan will consider the music’s global impact, they said.

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