The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival kicked off yesterday with The Hip-Hop Institute in partnership with the English Department at Medgar Evers College. What else is there to say but how chock full of information and much needed inspiration the entire day was. From Keynote Speaker Deray Mckesson’s riveting opening words to encouraging workshops to panels filled with the most knowledgeable individuals involved in the Hip-Hop industry, The Hip-Hop Institute was the place to be for all lovers of the culture.
Opening remarks were delivered by longtime Festival supporter Public Advocate, Letitia James. The self described “OG”, proved to be well-versed in the true meaning of Hip-Hop. Ms. James delved into how Hip-Hop has proven time and time again to be that voice for the voiceless while being reflective of our struggles. She went on to remind us that Hip-Hop has always been about hope and sharing something personal and real with others. James solidified her support for Hip-Hop when she urged the audience to support a tax credit that would boost music production in New York State. What better way to kick off The Hip-Hop Institute than with a refreshing reminder of the true essence of Hip-Hop?
Following was our Keynote Speaker, DeRay Mckesson, one of the most prominent and influential activists of our generation and a leading advocate for the Black Lives Matter Movement. Mckesson made his first public appearance at The Hip-Hop Institute after being arrested in Baton Rouge for peacefully protesting Alton Sterling’s tragic death. He had just about an hour to spare before his meeting at the White House with President Obama and other activists to discuss what actions can be taken to improve relations between law enforcement and black communities. He was on a train from Baltimore to New York at 5 a.m. and back on a plane to D.C. at 10:30a.m. DeRay Mckesson pulled no punches on what it means to be a “protestor” in today’s day in age. “Protest is the idea of telling the truth in public” began Mckesson, as he went on to describe the Black Lives Matter movement as being a call to end violence. Mckesson gave strong support to the many social media outlets for helping others “get woke” and “stay woke” as they help highlight stories that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Within his short time with us, Mckesson even made it a point to take a few questions from audience members. From his recent activism in Baton Rouge, to his inspirational speech at our Festival, to then immediately flying out to the White House, Mckesson has proven to be a symbol of perseverance, a most noble quality to have in today’s age.
From one powerful speech by DeRay to another given by Lumumba Bandele, Senior Community Organizer of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. the morning continued kicking in strong. Bandele described Hip-Hop as a “child of our liberation movement”. He credited Hip-Hop with always being in the forefront of issues that need awareness. Lumumba spoke adamantly about continuing in the fight for racial equality and reminded the audience that “freedom and justice is a prerequisite for love and healing”. By the end of Bandele’s speech, the audience was ready and eager to take in the rest of the day’s events.
The State of Hip-Hop Journalism panel followed with speakers who have keen insight into the nuanced media landscape that helps shape our industry. Speakers, Julian Mitchell from Forbes, Kazeem “Kaz” Famuyide from TheStashed.com, and Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins from Complex Media, gave valuable advice on how to succeed while still staying true to the Hip-Hop culture in journalism. As a journalist, “it is our responsibility to show that our culture is more than just music” explained Julian Mitchell, an idea that all the panelists strongly agreed with. This panel ended with words that encouraged the audience to take control of the power they have within themselves to help give back to the culture that raised us.
Next was the Mental and Physical Health discussion organized by Mona Faison of P.E.A.C.E. for Peace. This panel was filled with individuals with years of experience on these matters. From doctors, registered dietitians and fitness experts, this panel provided a wealth of information on mental illness and the available avenues for support. A profound moment was when Jimmy Brown, artist and founder of Street Loyalty Ent./Broken Hearts discussed his ongoing battle with mental health and a heart condition that keeps his heart working at only 15%. “When I think about mental health, I think about myself. But when you look at me, you see something else”, explained Jimmy.
The Sneaker Business panel, sponsored by Ewing Athletics, followed with a discussion on the impact of sneaker culture on Hip-Hop. Panelist Premium Pete described how through sneakers he was able to build real relationships with people which lead to business relationships. “Sneakers are a great conversation starter” explained Pete as he stressed the importance of not only building a relationship with others but maintaining them as well. Lots of gems were dropped on the secrets of how to succeed in the sneaker business world and not just be consumers of them.
Julian Mitchell from Forbes also hosted a “Get Paid to Be Yourself” workshop. This workshop encouraged people to take ownership of their personal brands. Mitchell emboldened his audience by telling them that every single one of them is their own culture and they have the capability of building themselves based on this. “One of the keys to get paid to be yourself is being able to clearly articulate your “why”. This was just one success idea of many that Julian dropped on his audience, leaving them fully motivated to make their own moves.
Women in Hip-Hop Business and Culture followed with a tell-all, advice giving and inspirational panel. These women did not hold back from speaking in detail about their experience in working in a male dominated industry. Kim Osorio, famed Hip-Hop journalist and writer, and Jen BKLYN, Hot 97 Director of Social Media and on-air personality, discussed full on how they tackled situations that seem to only affect women in the industry. Tia Williams of Copy Director of Bumble and Bumble and beauty blogger of Shake Your Beauty, described one of her struggles was not empowerment, but being a black woman in a white woman industry. This panel ended with these profound words from the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s owns, Ebonie Jackson, “You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. You just have to believe in equality”.
First Class Sergeant Charles of The US Army made a compelling speech, instilling in the audience that people do not define who we are. We define ourselves, however in defining ourselves we must choose to speak with words that help define who we are. So thank you US Army for reminding us that we have the power to define ourselves and we must do so in a way where we stay true to ourselves.
And last but not least, The Independence in Hip-Hop panel ended the day of The Hip-Hop Institute by dropping a wealth of knowledge of being independent in Hip-Hop and succeeding. Ibrahim Hamad, J.Cole’s business partner, manager and co-founder of Dreamville Records, stressed the importance of being passionate about the business because the amount of hard work it involves. Many times one person has to wear many hats just to get the job done right. “If you’re passionate about what you do, it’ll work out”, explained Ibrahim. The panelists educated their audience while constantly encouraging them that it is indeed possible to succeed. “There’s nothing that I can do that you can’t do” said panelist Hovain, Troy Ave’s manager. Chris Mooney, from the successful digital music distribution company, Tunecore, stayed in the same vein and encouraged independence in the industry by explaining that once music is put on their platform the artist has full control on marketing it any which way they please.
We are proud to say that The Hip-Hop Institute was a complete success due to each and every one of our panelists dedicating their time to share their invaluable knowledge, experience, and advice with us and our audience. This event would not have been possible without them or without an audience who truly appreciates the world of Hip-Hop so we send a big thank you to all who showed up and participated.