Hip-Hop Institute: The Highlights

Pictured: Political Activist Linda Sarsour

The 13th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s Hip-Hop Institute, in partnership with the English Department at Medgar Evers College, was in full swing on July 12. The all-day event saw over 30 panelists discussing topics within both the community and the world at large, and all for the love of Hip-Hop. The day kicked off with a keynote speech delivered by political activist Linda Sarsour, who stressed the importance of fighting the cycle of history and encouraging others to become activists within their own communities.

From left: Timothy Anne Burnside, Ralph McDaniels, Fab Five Freddy, Christopher Emdin, Ph.D

All eyes then turned to the Preserving The Legacy panel which featured commentary from NMAAHC curator, Timothy Anne Burnside, Christopher Emdin, Ph.D of Urban Studies at Columbia University, and veteran Hip-Hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy. The discussion was moderated by veteran DJ and co-host of the legendary Video Music Box, Ralph McDaniels. The four sat and chopped it up on how Hip-Hop has contributed to both Black culture and pop culture as a whole. “So much of American culture is based off what Black folks did,” said Fab Five Freddy. With that, there was also the concern of Hip-Hop becoming an artifact, being that the Smithsonian had began to recognize the genre. “In order to preserve legacies, people must trust you with that work,” Burnside said in regards to “passing the torch” to the next generation of Hip-Hop. But this isn’t to say that this applied to just Hip-Hop, as they also spoke about becoming authentic teachers of the culture itself. As Christopher Emdin said, “you are somebody’s ancestor — move accordingly.”

Pictured: CMS Charles Peterson (left)

There were also a few words from CSM Charles Peterson of the U.S. Army Recruiting Site, located in Downtown Brooklyn. CSM Peterson spoke fondly of his love for Hip-Hop, and his time in the army, encouraging the younger attendees to sign up.

Counter-clockwise from left: Teddy Alford, Chuck Creekmur, Datwon Thomas, Jamilah Lemieux, and Nadeska Alexis.

The day then switched gears into the Hip Hop Journalism panel, moderated by Jerry Barrow of Nod Factor. The panel consisted of Editor-In-Chief of Vibe Magazine Datwon Thomas, Chuck Creekmur founder of Allhiphop.com, Jamilah Lemieux, VP of News and Mens Programming at Interactive One, and Everyday Struggle moderator and Hip-Hop journalist, Nadeska Alexis. They spoke on everything from non-Hip-Hop voices pushing anti-culture content, to urging the younger generation to learn their history.  They even discussed how certain magazines had failed to keep up with the times and failed to bridge the gap from old to new which is crucial, especially in today’s age.

From left: Janaye Ingram, Ginny Suss, Toshi Reagon, and Madame Gandhi

Soon after, the Women’s March on Washington & Activism in The Hip-Hop Age panel discussed music bringing life to a movement, and the fact that the Women’s March was the largest march in the history of the world. Moderated by artist and activist Madame Gandhi, the panel was nothing short of female empowerment. The panel featured fellow artist Toshi Reagon, Janaye Ingram, activist and Director of National Partnerships for Airbnb; and Ginny Suss, VP of OkayPlayer and OkayAfrica. The ladies further discussed the exploitation of Hip-Hop as a genre, as well as using your platform to bring attention to important issues. One of the panelists made a note to say “When you take a call to save your life, you don’t get a check,” in regards to taking a stand in advocating for important matters that affect women.

From left: April Walker, Glenn Wiggins  (moderator and founder of False Image), Misa Hylton-Brim

One panel that was definitely one for the culture, was the Fashion #ForTheCulture conversation with April Walker of Walker Wear, and Misa Hylton-Brim, who’s stylist skills have been seen on the likes of Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, and Lil’ Kim. In fact, it was Hylton-Brim’s creativity that was behind Lil Kim’s classic “Crush On You” music video. “I feel like our work gave Hip-Hop it’s own identity. It wasn’t one particular look, but the energy in all of it,” Hylton-Brim said. Both Hip-Hop fashion pioneers in their own right, with Walker Wear being the first black-owned line in department stores, and has been worn by 2Pac, Run DMC, and Biggie to name a few. The lifestyle fashion brand prides itself in delivering the three F’s: Fashion, Fit, and Function. These two women have seen trends and clothing lines come and go, but stayed true to their creativity and originality, and even spoke about envisioning styling music videos since childhood. Even speaking on brands that didn’t withstand the tests of time. “If you don’t control the distribution, then you don’t control it at all,” Walker said about maintaining control of fashion brands. In short, these women helped Hip-Hop’s fashion scene reach new heights, even setting the tone of what is seen today.

From left: Drew “Dru-Ha” Friedman, Leota Blacknor, Torae (moderator, artist, and co-host of the 13th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival), Rico Brooks

With discussions on all things Hip-Hop, there was also a conversation held on Streaming Hip-Hop In The Digital Age, a hot topic which is becoming more and more significant in today’s digital world of music.  The panelists consisted of Drew “Dru-Ha” Freidman, Co-CEO of Duck Down Music, Leota Blacknor, VP of Urban Marketing & Label Acquisitions for Caroline Distribution; and Rico Brooks, Mager and CEO of Adella Thomas Managment. They each provided a much clearer understanding of the affects and process of music streaming.  They touched on how streaming sales can out-sell physical albums, as well as how many streams of music equate to a sale. That plus how royalties play into how much money is made from an individual song purchase and download. There was also the talk of how streaming music has played a role in how big-name artists may have huge followings, but poor album sales due to the increase of streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify, and Apple Music.

From left: Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival Director of Marketing and Communications Juels Pierrot and Randall “Sickamore” Medford

The Hip-Hop Institute wrapped up with a one-on-one conversation with Photographer, Artist & Creative Director Sickamore moderated by Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival Director of Marketing & Communications, Juels Pierrot. Office Hours, also part of the festival’s #ForTheCulture Conversations was nothing short of inspiring. Addressing the lack of Black executives, more specifically, young black executives in large industries sparked a conversation of how to know when it’s time to move on from a job for the sake of growth.

Salute to all of the panelists at this year’s Hip-Hop Institute for dropping invaluable gems of knowledge. For more information and highlights about the institute, head on over to The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s official website for all things HHI.


All photos courtesy of Photo Rob