Summit's hip-hop appeal promotes financial skills

Russell Simmons, Lt. Gov. Steele sponsor day of seminars, music


News from around the Baltimore region

April 22, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Old-school hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh's signature song, "The Show," was blasting through the speakers as he shouted: "If you're making money in the 2006, say, make money money, make money money money!"

Audience members nodded to the beat and screamed back the response in true hip-hop concert form. But they didn't pack the Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University yesterday solely to be entertained. They were there, as the rapper reminded them, to learn the financial tools to "get their money right."

Sponsored by Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the event consisted of such seminars as repairing damaged credit and buying a first home. It wrapped up with a town hall meeting that was part concert, part financial-literacy conference with panelists such as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the R&B group 112.

The Baltimore summit was the second of nine planned in cities nationwide, designed to harness the raw energy of hip-hop to teach young fans to build wealth.

"We're pushing to encourage young people to think broader about their future and take responsibility for their lives," said Simmons in an interview. "One way to do that is: Be financially literate."

A staff member at the summit helped Cassandra Hall, 39, of Baltimore obtain her credit score and create a plan to help her buy a first home.

"I'm really trying to open a business - buying homes and fixing them up for low-income people," she said.

Others arrived at the summit strictly to rub elbows with rap industry heavyweights such as hip-hop mogul Simmons; his brother Joseph, the Rev. Run of the pioneering rap trio Run-DMC; and Baltimore native Kevin Liles, executive vice president of Warner Music Group.

Although summit invitations declared: "This is not a music event, do not bring demos," a box in the arts center lobby was full of wannabe-artist CDs. By midafternoon, a group of young rappers gathered outside to freestyle their latest rhymes as a friend videotaped them.

Yesterday's event also took on an air of politics, with an impromptu visit by Ehrlich during the town hall meeting. Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who is running for Senate in 2006 - possibly against Steele, who is considering running - appeared before the start of the meeting.

On its face, a Simmons-Steele pairing may seem unusual. Simmons campaigned for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in her unsuccessful gubernatorial bid against Ehrlich. But Simmons said yesterday that the event was "not about party."

In a conversation before the town hall meeting, Simmons thanked Ehrlich for his "commitment to the community."

Last year, a mutual friend introduced Simmons and Steele, both 47. At a meeting, Steele urged Simmons to bring his message of financial literacy to Baltimore.

"When it comes to building wealth, the future is today and the hip-hop community is doing it today," said Steele. "They are making themselves wealthy. They are giving back to their communities."

Simmons, known as the "godfather of hip-hop," co-founded the premier hip-hop label Def Jam Records. He made his mark outside music when he developed his clothing line, Phat Farm, 12 years ago. He launched the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network in 2001, which gained prominence during the height of campaign season last year when Simmons pledged to register 2 million new voters.

"There are a lot of rappers giving back. They don't sing about it. They do it," he said. "Rappers know how to get that money. But we don't always hear about how they put it back in their communities. They give back through their foundations. I'm proud of this generation and the potential I see."

Sun pop music critic Rashod D. Ollison contributed to this article.

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