SIMMONS SIMMERING

Russell Simmons is angry over the refusal to hear testimony from hiphop artists during hearings into new rating systems set to be imposed on recorded music...

Hiphop mogul RUSSELL SIMMONS has launched a stinging attack on the US government over their refusal to hear testimony from hiphop artists during hearings into new rating systems set to be imposed on recorded music.

Writing in today’s New York Times (August 3), the Def Jam founder accuses senators chairing the hearings of being more interested in talking about “young African-American artists who create hiphop music” than talk to them. He has called on the Senate to consider seriously their position with regards hiphop – which he describes as “an important art form, really the first new genre of music to emerge since rock and roll”.

Simmons also alleges that the committee lied to him when his request to speak to them, as chairman of the newly founded Hiphop Summit Action Network, was turned down. “I was told there were too many witnesses already and that my request could not be accommodated,” he writes. “Later I learned that one witness was added to the list as late as the night before the hearings.”

Simmons, who went along to the hearing as an observer, says he was appalled to discover that a report into explicit content in music, featuring 29 albums, focused on 22 hiphop records – without giving hiphop artists the opportunity to publicly defend their corner.

“Only by listening carefully to what these young, urban African-Americans have to say can the senators – who are overwhelmingly white, middle-class and middle-aged – possibly understand what is at the heart of the music,” says Simmons. “There are many cultural and economic facts of life that drive hiphop and its themes, lyrics and language. The senators have to make an effort if they are to appreciate why this music exerts such a hold on American culture, how it unites and educates our youth, and why its popularity spans divides of race and class.”

Simmons is the driving force behind attempts to move serious issues around hiphop – from content of songs, to lack of education in deprived US cities – into the political mainstream. It was Simmons who organised the recent hiphop summit in New York and he who put together the Hiphop Summit Action Network – of which P Diddy announced this week he would take an active role – in order to forward some of the proposals made during the summit. To read his New York Times article in full click here.