Hip-Hop Hollas at City Hall

But Were They Really Saying Something?

Even if the participants were there exclusively for the celebrities, some didn't see that as a negative. "We're here to see them," said 17-year-old Rushell Marshall, "but they're going to say something that we're going to listen to."

But were the artists saying anything of substance? Mutulu, a/k/a M1, a grassroots activist and one-half of the politically charged rap duo dead prez, saw the event as an exercise in futility. He told the Voice that the presence of the artists may have merely cloaked the absence of true meaning. "They pulled a big charade. They intended for us to be overwhelmed by celebrity star power, but it was politically empty," he said.

Muhammad disagreed. "We saw hip-hop icons and hip-hop moguls not only take to the stage to present something entertaining, but each of them spoke. What Puffy said, what L.L. Cool J said, what Rah Digga said had meaning," he said. "Each artist addressed the issue. So this was not for entertainment. This was for education."

Randi Weingarten, Russell Simmons, and Minister Muhammad onstage June 4
photo: Julia Xanthos
Randi Weingarten, Russell Simmons, and Minister Muhammad onstage June 4

And interestingly, the politicians turned out, from City Council Speaker Gifford Miller to Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and even Mark Green, whom Simmons supported for mayor last year. When queried about Green's presence at the event despite turning off African American and Latino voters in the last minute of his mayoral campaign, Muhammad said, "When organizers found out he wanted to come, they said, 'Fine.' Bloomberg could have come, but he chose not to do it."

"Mark Green was one of many Democrats who came in to cash in. It was not about partisanship, but it did happen that no Republicans showed up," said Simmons.

"The bottom line is that it was a successful event despite the fact that obviously the cops were unprepared for the big crowd," said Muhammad. "We had 100,000 people. Nobody was seriously injured. There were no major incidents, and 100 percent of the minor incidents were precipitated by the ignorance and the unpreparedness of the police."

According to Muhammad, the hip-hop community has made a statement. If that statement will have any real significant impact remains to be seen. When Mayor Bloomberg finally presents a budget to the City Council, we'll find out whether or not the city government will holla back.

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