The University’s appreciation and deep-seat in hip-hop culture has been steadily gaining tread this past year. And it “don’t stop,” as Black Students United and several other clubs sponsored The Hottest Hip Hop Ivy Weekend. In the same spirit of Afrika Bambaata and Pete Rock, who made their marks on campus last semester, the weekend centered around a panel featuring the University’s most illustrious alumni involved in the hip-hop industry.
The brain child of Fritz Celestin ’86, the focus of Saturday’s panel was for the alumni to impart valuable wisdom on how to enter the recording industry. Celestin is a music video director who has worked with prominent names such as Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, as well as on keynote urban films such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. As moderator of the panel, Celestin joined an elite retinue of hip-hop movers and shakers. L. Londell McMillan ’87, the new executive publisher of The Source magazine, was present along with Linda Berk ’74, general manager of AJM records and talent consultant responsible for big names like Ashanti, and Reggie Osse ’86, an attorney and co-author of *Bling*, a coffee table ode to all things garish and diamond studded in hip-hop.
Also gracing the panel were recent grads Kevin Edwards ’05, Kenan Goggins ’05 and Chukuma M. Ogude ’05, also known as K. Words, Concise and Slangston Hughes respectively, who comprise the group True2Life. Having rocked the stage with T-Pain, Nas and Joe Budden while at the University, the trio have since been breaking new ground in the game and recently debuted their major music video, “Poppin’ On TV,” earning them a seat at the table of Cornell hip hop royalty.
In the modern landscape of music downloading and illegal MP3s, the panelists emphasized the most important facet to success as taking advantage of all media of trade.[img_assist|nid=36793|title=Hip-hop Ivies|desc=Alumni speakers share their experience in the hip-hop industry on Friday. See page 12 for an interview with True2Life.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
“It’s truly about entrepreneurship now,” Berk said. “There’s money out there to be made. It’s just being made differently than it was 10 years ago.”
Berk continued to emphasize that in an industry with roots in the hustle and flow of urban life, innovation is important now more than ever.
Though the genre may be evolving, the concepts of grit and determination remain crucial.
“Hip-hop is just a term used to describe a group of people who love a certain energy,” McMillan
said. “It’s pretty much any and everything you want to do. Whether it’s hip-hop, or anything, you just got to be really good at what you do.”
Like many other panelists, McMillan is at the apex of his game. A lauded attorney who has represented numerous hip-hop acts and was cited by Osse as “the reason Prince changed his name for a couple years,” his new ownership of The Source puts him in a pivotal position to lead a fresh direction in the industry. This direction manifests itself not only in the music, but also in how business is done. McMillan emphasized that he intends to use his positional clout to put the youth movement in overdrive.
“My goal for The Source is to create an global media brand, that connects people and inspires them to go hard and be great.”
McMillan said: “Hip-hop to me is like sports. It’s intergenerational. Each generation has its own heroes. Revolutionary culture is just part of the youth experience, and we should embrace that.”
Panelists also emphasized that the Internet is what separates the college generation and its musical sensibilities, and also what will continue to change the sound of hip-hop.
“The more the Internet becomes accessible to the disenfranchised youths, the more creativity you will see,” Celestin said.
The men of True2Life noted their own experiences in the new digital age of music. The trio manage themselves, in addition to doing their own production, and explained the networking and business skills they honed on East Hill were as crucial to the success of their sharpened wordplay.
“We are self-sufficient out of necessity,” Ogude said. “This is our business and our life, and if we want to see it blossom, we have to put in the footwork.”
The group noted the importance of their blog and Myspace for striking deals and communicating with other artists, as well as for consolidating and expanding their swelling fan base.
The panel finished up with a question-and-answer session, in which McMillan stressed the importance of the Ujamaa residential community for keeping alive the urban spirit that many students bring to campus. This youthful energy was evident in the audience, as listeners ranged from aspiring rap icons to doe-eyed acolytes of the business moguls on the panel.
“I wanted to understand the business behind hip-hop,” said Michael Brown ’10 of his reasons for coming. “I think it’s important for students to get that context.”
Brown noted his admiration for the speakers, as well as his appreciation for the knowledge gleaned from the discussion.
As inspired students approached the speakers for autographs and chats, McMillan’s encouragement to “go hard” lingered.
“Whether it’s positive or negative, if it’s hot, people are going to find you,” McMillan said.