It’s a drizzly afternoon on the campus of St. Philip’s College. As it has done for the past three years, the City of San Antonio MLK Commission’s Hip Hop Summit has descended upon the college to explore the current and future state of affairs in hip-hop culture. In a workshop entitled “Today’s Girls, Tomorrow’s Women” (the male equivalent of this workshop was unequally titled “Today’s Young Men, Tomorrow’s Leaders,”) a group of young women gather to discuss health and educational and career opportunities.
“What we’re trying to tell them is that you can be a hip-hop person, you can be cool, but you still have to represent yourself,” says JoJo Emerson, a Hip Hop Summit presenter and Account Executive with BMP Radio. “You have to be educated. You have to respect yourself. You have to respect others. That way people will see you not as this person who just likes rap music that’s disrespectful. You’re actually a young person that likes hip-hop but you’re still a sound-minded individual.”
Now in its fourth incarnation, the summit is still saddled with some of the flaws that were present on day one. It’s a challenge to find someone on-site who has a sense of what is transpiring on a logistics level, and locating an official schedule listing panel participants is almost impossible, suggesting a general lack of organization. The looming presence of corporate hip-hop radio is also problematic, particularly when said entities aren’t publicly taken to task for some of the music they play.
“People are beginning to talk about the summit and look forward to it every year,” says MLK Commission Hip Hop Summit Chair Joaquinn “Joc” Arch, who has been coordinating the event for the past four years. “I’ve actually had parents come up to me and talk about the influence that some of the workshops had on their children. So that kind of lets us know that were going in the right direction with this.”
Arch’s plans for improving the summit include adding diversity to the event by inviting more professional athletes to the table, and encouraging the youth to take financial responsibility and reinvest in their community. According to Arch, every aspect of the summit is approved by MLK Commission Chair Gloria Ray before moving forward, and he downplays the questionable semantics surrounding some of the youth panels.
“What we’re trying to push more so than anything is that we’re losing a lot of our young black men to a lot of different situations,” explains Arch. “Our young black women, they’re actually on target, and if you look around, they’re the ones coming out of college and getting the good jobs; they’re handling their business. Those statements are made to kind of capture `the young black men’s` attention. If you look at it biblically, the man is the head of the household, so he has to be the leader.”
In her latest book, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop-And Why It Matters, hip-hop studies pioneer Tricia Rose lays down a blueprint that all fledgling hip-hop summits, particularly the Alamo City’s, should note. In 10 succinct chapters, the author of the seminal tome Black Noise deconstructs the top 10 debates in hip-hop viewed through the lenses as of both its critics and defenders. Rose concludes The Hip Hop Wars with “Six Guiding Principles for Progressive Creativity, Consumption, and Community in Hip Hop and Beyond,” the most significant of these principles being “Beware the Manipulation of the Funk.”
“Being a woman, I hate to hear rap music that downgrades women,” says Emerson, on resisting the manipulative funk that masks harmful, hurtful attitudes with seductive beats. “It really bothers me because women downgrade themselves enough every day that they don’t need a man to sit there and write a song and promote it even more. Unfortunately, it creates really false images for people like young girls. They don’t listen to the words. They just listen to the music. But if they were actually to sit down and listen to the words and what they’re saying, I think they’d understand that they’re putting down women.”
“I think that radio stations, especially hip-hop radio stations, have a responsibility,” continues Emerson. “Whether they believe so or not, they are the ones that are actually the channel of this hip-hop culture to the community, and I think they should be very aware of how they talk on the radio, the comments that they use, and the music. I don’t believe every hot song needs to be on the radio, especially if it’s degrading to women, if it talks about racism, or is just not a positive song. I do think they should probably scrutinize that.” •