What was supposed to be a peaceful, private gathering of the West Coast hip-hop community on Thursday turned into a heated four-hour open-mic assembly dominated by two very different sermons: one from Minister Louis Farrakhan and one from Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight.
Tempers flared at the West Coast Hip-Hop Summit inside the posh ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel when Knight spent much of his time at the podium insulting everyone from Dr. Dre, Eminem and Master P to Janet Jackson, women and homosexuals.
Knight’s tirades prompted a few outbursts and resulted in several people storming out of the room. One woman, a former Death Row artist named Jewell, screamed, “I cannot sit here and let the devil do his business,” and ignored Knight’s pleas to debate.
A press conference that was to set off the summit basically became the summit after Farrakhan’s 90-minute homily of a keynote address kept media in the ballroom for nearly three hours before a hip-hop artist had even uttered a word. After Def Jam founder and summit co-organizer Russell Simmons, comedian and radio personality Steve Harvey, veteran rappers Mike Concepcion and the D.O.C. and others each said a few words, Knight turned around the positive direction of the gathering by addressing the absence of some prominent artists.
“If Farrakhan can be here and Suge Knight can be here, all these other guys can be here,” Knight said. “I won’t name drop, but how can you be from the West Coast and represent gangsta rap if you don’t show up? I don’t understand.”
Knight, who was late to the summit and missed Farrakhan’s address, went on to drop names anyway. “Let’s take a roll call,” he said, naming Will Smith and many MCs from the East Coast, whom, Simmons later clarified, attended the summit in New York City last summer.
Initial press releases for the summit said Dr. Dre would give opening remarks, though his spokesperson never confirmed his attendance. Neither Dre nor any of his associates (Snoop Dogg, Eminem, etc.) attended, save for Xzibit, who came late in the day, according to organizers. Knight, on the other hand, arrived with a massive entourage that included Mack 10, Kurupt, Irv Gotti, the Outlawz and the Boo-Yaa Tribe.
Knight condemned Eminem’s lyrics, criticized Janet Jackson for using images of Tupac Shakur in her concerts and chastised Master P and the Cash Money crew for not meeting with him during a recent trip to New Orleans.
When Knight accused women of wanting to be men and said they are not strong enough to be leaders, many in the audience gasped, and the religious leaders onstage appeared flabbergasted.
After the press conference, Simmons stood by his decision to let Knight talk. “I wanted people who are major figures on the West Coast to have a chance to speak their minds,” he said.
While there appeared to be staredowns among rival gang members in attendance, there were no incidents of violence for the event’s large number of security guards to contend with. That alone was a sign of success, said Concepcion, who was one of the summit’s key organizers and is a longtime advocate of anti-violence.
“I don’t think people walked out of here mad,” he said. “I think it worked out good. You had some of the most serious kids from the streets representing for the industry. These were mortal enemies sitting together. But this wasn’t about being a gang member. These kids came in with a business mind. For them to listen and bite their tongues was a feat in itself.”
The business at hand included the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network agreeing to team with Rap the Vote and the National Black Youth Vote Coalition to ask rappers to support a voter registration and education drive. The summit also agreed to support spoken-word artist Sarah Jones in her lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission, which fined a Portland, Oregon, radio station for playing a track of hers that addresses homophobia in rap music and references lyrics as examples.
The summit’s main theme of embracing responsibility, however, seemed to be what most of those in attendance took from the event. During Farrakhan’s address, many hollered in agreement with his words. After the summit, people echoed his ideas in the halls.
“[Children] can’t read ‘Dick and Jane,’ but they can recite your raps,” Farrakhan said to the assembled. “The question is, what are you feeding them? The hip-hop generation has the real power, but in order to realize your true potential you must do what is right, not just what is popular.”