The last time Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons was in town, back in May 2003, he announced that he'd be bringing one of his famed hip-hop summits to Denver later that year. But 2003 ended without a repeat appearance by Simmons -- much less a Mootown summit.
This past Thursday, though, Simmons was back, this time with younger brother Joseph (aka Rev Run), another founding father of hip-hop, to promote Phat Farm's new footware line. Run DMC fans know that Run is serious about his sneaks: On 1986's classic Raising Hell, the good Rev and his sidekick, D.M.C. (aka Darryl McDaniels), paid homage to the shell-toed Adidas they helped make famous.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when the Simmons Bros. rewarded everyone who shelled out what seemed like a ridiculous cover -- twenty bones -- to attend their soiree at Rise with a brand-new pair of kicks, a jersey and other trinkets. As an added bonus, Run even rocked the mike for a few cuts.
Since I'm something of a buster -- not exactly VIP material -- I wasn't able to get close enough to Russell at Rise to ask about the long-anticipated summit. The website for Simmons's Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (www.hsan.org) still makes no reference to a date in this city, and HSAN spokeswoman Jody Miller says, "I unfortunately don't have any details on Denver yet."
But Charlotte Stevens does. Two weeks ago, Denver's Safe City office, which Stevens heads, announced that the summit was set for May 14-15, 2004, and that yours truly would be one of the judges for the logo-design contest. When I finally reached Stevens on her cell phone last Friday, she said that some plans are still being finalized. So far, though, Baby Bash, Frankie J and Gemini are slated to perform on Friday, May 14, at a venue yet to be determined; the Def Poetry showcase and the finals for the Denver Idol talent competition will be held that same night. The top three winners of the Idol contest will get the chance to open the following night's concert at the Denver Coliseum with headliners Big Tymers, the Ying Yang Twins, YoungBloodZ and Bone Thugs 'N' Harmony. Also scheduled for May 15 are workshops on skill-building and entrepreneurial development led by NEWSED, Junior Achievement and the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition, as well as a car show and a three-on-three basketball tournament.
Stevens confirms that Russell and company will be on hand -- to do what, exactly, remains uncertain. "To be honest with you, we won't know anything about what they plan to do until three weeks out," Stevens says.
And since Safe City is funding the summit -- Melinda Patterson is heading fundraising efforts -- and local luminaries, including former mayoral candidate Penfield Tate, are doing most of the legwork, it would seem that by the time Simmons rolls into town, there won't be much left for him to do but step into the spotlight and take all the credit.
"Let's not say 'take credit,'" Stevens clarifies. "They come in and help make it better. Russell and the rest are interesting people. They want to see how much hype we build before they step in; that's the way they do things. They want to see if you get your business in order, get everything organized -- and after that, if everything is organized, then they come in and start helping you do your promotions and stuff. They met with us four different times to tell us the things that they expect. In other words, they come in and tell you how it should look and give you suggestions and that kind of thing. It's like a class, if you will, or a workshop. They come in and lend you their expertise up front."
That may sound like little more than a franchising opportunity for Denver -- but it's one that Safe City plans to make the most of. "If you rely on them to put it together, then we just show up for the party," Stevens says. "We get no input. But if we organize it, we know that all of our messages will be delivered, and we know that we'll have the people necessary in our city to be out front. And that's important to me."
According to HSAN's website, the group's mission is to "serve as a catalyst for education advocacy and other societal concerns fundamental to the well-being of at-risk youth throughout the United States." One of those concerns seems to be getting out the vote. The site touts the number of people who've registered to vote at past summits -- 11,000 new voters at Philadelphia's event alone. HSAN has been active in the political arena since its inception: It's campaigned to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws in New York, and last year Simmons called for a boycott of Pepsi after the company canned rapper Ludacris as its spokesman.
Could Simmons be paving the way for a new political party with his summits? Run DNC? Simmons/Combs in 2008?
The Phat Farm shirt I picked up at Rise might offer some clues: the words "Repair the past. Vote Now" on the front, and the motto "The hip-hop community can change the world" on the back. Imagine how much power Simmons would have if he could mobilize hip-hop heads across the nation.
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Right now, Stevens is just counting on Simmons mobilizing Denver's hip-hop heads. Once costs are covered, she says, proceeds from the summit will be funneled into an "incubator" to foster artist development and skills training. And as part of the deal worked out with record labels whose acts will perform at Denver's summit, over the next three years Safe City will be able to submit works by local artists to those labels for consideration.
That gets my vote.
Upbeats and beatdowns: On Friday, March 12, ION will celebrate the release of its debut disc, Gross National Product, at the Ogden Theatre, with Antik, Misunderstood, TTEC and the Commodes; the Railbenders will be joined by Eddie Spaghetti from the Supersuckers and the Dalhart Imperials at Herman's Hideaway; Ruby unveils its new live CD at the Soiled Dove, with the Melanie Susuras Band, the Wild Blooms and Ordinary Poets; and Thank God for Astronauts and the Long Since Forgotten set up for CEX at the Hi-Dive. On Saturday, March 13, Ten Tiers and Local 33 kick up some dust at the Blue Mule, while Rubber Planet, Offering 74 and Corporate Whore tear up Cricket on the Hill. Finally, on Wednesday, March 17, Denunzio, the Dropskots, Start Tomorrow and the Bowery Boys stop by the Larimer Lounge.