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Hip Hop Congress show tops week of activities, discussion

By Anastassios Adamopoulos , Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 20, 2014

When hundreds of hip-hop fans converged Friday for a live show, it was not at one of Metro Detroit’s large venues or even in one of Ann Arbor’s popular music establishments.

Instead, 400 people crowded the Michigan Union’s Rogel Ballroom for Hip Hop Week’s concluding event: a primetime concert featuring Harlem hip-hop artist Immortal Technique.

The show, which included accompaniments by artists such as Poison Pen, Swave Sevah and DJ Static, was sponsored by Hip Hop Congress, a University student group dedicated to fostering dialogue around the culture of hip-hop.

Immortal Technique addressed the crowd throughout the show on topics ranging from drug use and college studies to the importance of helping others and questioning the government.

“People are going to try to influence you in this school to serve their political purpose, not your political purpose,” he told the audience. “They’re going to want you to be the workhorse from Animal Farm to get them get where they need to go. But are they helping you to get you to where you need to go?”

Grammy-nominated artist Maimouna Youssef turned heads, entering behind the crowd accompanied by a tuba and a djembe instrument. She sang among the fans before heading to the stage to perform a cover of “Royals.” The event also included performances by Pontiac artist One Be-Lo and Clear Soul Forces, a four member Detroit hip-hop group.

Before and after their sets, the performers interacted with fans by taking pictures, signing autographs and chatting with attendees.

LSA senior Zachary Kendall, Hip Hop Congress president, said he appreciated the artists’ engaging performances

“That’s what we wanted,” Kendall said. “That intimacy creates a level of realness that is difficult to achieve on this campus. We also did a great job of engaging the greater Ann Arbor community. It was a great feeling to provide those fans with a quality hip hop show from beginning to end.”

Business sophomore Trinity Lin, the Hip Hop Congress financial chair, noted the importance of an interactive performance.

“I think the show was definitely better than I expected because I’ve never seen a live show where the artists are so willing to interact with the audience,” she said.

Immortal Technique, who has worked with Hip Hop Congress in the past, said while he supports Hip Hop Congress’ core mission, he could also contribute to their efforts to educate others on hip hop culture.

“I think what Hip Hop Congress tries to do successfully, but I think if they had the right backing they could a lot more of, is really educate young people about the culture of hip hop as it pertains to growing our people in a positive way, not as it pertains to bragging about things that are irrelevant,” he said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

Kendall said Immortal Technique, whose songs often include social and political commentary, embodies Hip Hop Congress’ core values.

“I really think Immortal Technique was fitting with the theme of a lot of things that have been going on this year as far as social commentary goes,” Kendall said. “Hip-hop at its root is social commentary and I think Immortal Technique does great job in communicating that in his music”.

In the past, Hip Hop Week has consisted of a weekend, but this year, organizers scheduled activities each day of the week leading up to the show, including a film screening, a visit to a Detroit gallery and a discussion on drug use and hip-hop.

“A lot of times hip-hop or rap is painted in a pretty negative light so it’s pretty much our job to kind of show people the other side of that,” Kendall said.

Kendall added that the discussion of drug usage in hip-hop was the most popular event apart from Friday’s show.

“That was a great event,” he said. “It was a conversation where I feel like everybody walked away with something so it was really productive.”

Kendall said the show’s success — with musical performances lasting an hour past their expected conclusion — demonstrated the organization’s main goals.

“Hip Hop has the power to bring people together that otherwise probably wouldn't be in the same room,” Kendall said.