There’s no modern musical genre with the same socially divisive power as hip hop. Parents bemoan Lil’ Wayne and Chris Brown for an inappropriate message or behavior and teenagers rebel in turn and buy their albums. College-aged partiers bounce to the Black Eyed Peas as their hipster counterparts smirk. But organizers of the 7th Annual Midwest Hip Hop Congress Summit, which will take place this weekend at the Michigan Union and League, seek to counteract the negative and contradictory associations so common to hip-hop music and culture.

7th Annual Midwest Hip Hop Congress Summit

Tonight at 7 p.m., tomorrow from 12 p.m.
The Michigan Union and League
Free seminar registration; $10 concert tonight

“The Hip Hop Summit is designed to promote a diverse, inclusive space on campus,” said Amer Ahmed, associate director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) in an interview with the Daily. “We know that there’s all sorts of problematic representations and distortions of hip-hop culture in our media. So how do we use people’s interests in hip hop as a way to channel them into spaces … more instructive and more educational?”

The solution found by the summit organizers is to provide seminars and concerts by artists who focus on the positive aspects of hip hop, using the medium as a vehicle for social justice and activism. Headlining this year’s summit is Freeway, a Philadelphia-based rapper who left the drug-dealing world for a career with Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella label in the early ’00s.

“(Freeway is) a well known artist, and we feel like he’s a name that attracts a lot of people without any significant negative stereotypes associated,” Ahmed said. “At the same time, we really do try to focus on a lot of the other artists, beyond just the headliner.”

Other artists who will perform this weekend include the ReMINDers — a husband-and-wife hip-hop and soul duo — Detroit rapper Invincible and Magestik Legend — a local artist who has played alongside rap legends from De La Soul to Ludacris.

The seminars held during the summit are attended by the artists in addition to community activists and any member of the public who’s interested. Ahmed said it’s not just students who participate.

“It’s mixed … I would say more than half the attendees are students from the University, but we also have young people,” Ahmed said.

One of Ahmed’s goals in organizing this year’s summit — a goal that’s shared by collaborating youth groups like the Neutral Zone and the GEAR UP program — is to involve high school students, giving them a constructive outlet for their musical interests and the simple opportunity to engage with their college peers.

“It’s good for them to be around college students, and it’s good for college students to be around high school students, because a lot of times college students … get disconnected from that reality,” Ahmed said. “They don’t necessarily realize how great of mentors they can be just by being college students on a college campus.”

The summit’s seminars, which include workshops on each of the four pillars of hip hop — DJ-ing, MC-ing, graffiti and breakdance — delve into a culture whose popular perception is often reduced to drug references and violent undertones. Ahmed emphasized that hip-hop expression is more vibrant than most realize — particularly in Ann Arbor.

“(Our perception of hip hop is) probably more diverse than it is in other places because of the diversity of our community and the different kinds of experiences and backgrounds people come from,” Ahmed said. “There’s a student organization called Hip Hop Academy that teaches the different elements of hip hop; a lot of those students are Korean-American … (so) they brought Korean breakdancers out in October.”

Though the University’s outlets for the hip hop-inclined are both various and varied, it remains a misunderstood movement by a large part of the population. By showing an alternate, more constructive side to the culture, the Hip Hop Summit hopes to change minds.

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