You're might be thinking: Rap is crap! The best rapper is a dead rapper! Rap is positive, alright, HIV positive. Rap has a positive side—it's called R&B! (These are actual comments I've heard.)
But what may sound incongruous to non-rap fans makes perfect sense to Gregory Russell, executive producer of The World of Rap Awards. The Los Angeles-based music man says the show is the only one showcasing the good side of hip-hop, its appeal to thugs hustling on blocks on Saturday nights and the bleary-eyed kids watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Among the awards: best rapper in a television commercial (five nominees, including Jay-Z in the Hewlett-Packard ad), most positive male rapper (Lupe Fiasco), most positive female rapper (Eve) and best positive rap commercial (nominees: Avis, Nextel, Target, Honda and Amp'd Mobile.)
Sounding as serious as a drive-by, Russell says, "This show is to demonstrate to those in the rap world, the gangster rappers, the right way, and to show people you can make money in a whole lot of other ways than screaming and cursing. Whether you want to be or not, when you step onstage, you are a role model. You can't opt out of that. You are a role model, and you have an effect on children. Do you want to go down in history as having a negative effect on children?"
Not quite the '90s-era anti-rap activism of C. Delores Tucker and Tipper Gore, or recent media smackdowns from the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby, but somebody's got to enforce accountability, Russell says. No argument there. Rappers are the new rockers—able to influence tectonic cultural shifts in everything from clothes to lingo, ya'meen? (Translation: Do you know what I mean?) MTV and BET glorify the negative, so why not focus on the lighter side?
"We point out a lot of the positive things going on in rap. You hear about so-and-so getting arrested, but you don't hear about so-and-so donating a million dollars to this project or that," Russell says.
It's all kosher 'til you scan the list of nominees and see names like Snoop Dogg (arrested several times in the last few months on gun and drug charges) and The World Of Rap Awards rapper of the year, Miami's Rick Ross, who bears the same moniker as notorious California dope-man "Freeway" Rick Ross and whose Billboard hit "Hustlin" boasts: "I know Pablo, Noriega, the real Noriega/He owe me a hundred favors/I ain't petty nigga, we buy the whole thang/See most of my niggas really still deal cocaine." Then there's Atlanta-based Lil Jon (most featured rapper of the year), whose songs generally revolve around tearing da club up and not giving a f--k.
These aren't gangster rappers in the Snoop Dogg (Crip) or The Game (Blood) sense, but they're likely whom retiring Sheriff Bill Young was referring to when he urged state gaming regulators in 2005 to consider banning thug-rap acts; whom Steve Wynn was targeting when he told the Las Vegas Sun earlier this year that the city needs gangster rappers "like it needs cancer"; and of whom former Mayor Jan Jones, also in the Sun, asked: "Why do we, as the No. 1 resort destination in the world, want to jeopardize our reputation for safety by bringing in gangster rap groups that encourage violence? It's counterintuitive."
But Russell says honoring these rappers is a carrot he's dangling to get them to come. He acknowledges that many might not. But if they do, he plans on bombarding them with positive messages, introducing them to, say, gospel rap.
"How often will Rick Ross get a chance to hear a gospel rap or to hear a rap from a cartoon? There are Disney series that use rap," he says. "Lots of the songs you hear in cartoons are hip-hop or rap songs and they're not negative."
More pressing than explaining the apparent contradictory nature of The World of Rap Awards event is finding a place to host it. The past three years, it's been at Cashman Theater. A link to the event notes that it's at Wynn Las Vegas on February 13. An official in the Wynn concierge department says the event is not listed and that "we've got events listed well into next year and it's not there."
Russell says casinos have expressed concern about hosting the event. He claims to go the extra mile to assuage their fears. If they want six security guards, he'll double that. They want an of-age crowd; he enforces it. "We tried to gear our show so that a family could attend," he says. They want a high-class affair; he's the tuxedo Gestapo. "This is an after-five event. You have to come in a tuxedo," he says. "You can be a Puffy or a Nelly, but if you don't have your tuxedo on, you're not getting in."
Passes for the show may be obtained by signing the guest book on the website. For more information, call 323-776-7106 or visit twora.net.