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M-1 has a University of Michigan assembly hall of 400 students, artists and faculty hanging on every syllable that leaps off his tongue. It's little wonder. Sporting a black shirt, jeans and sneakers, he's charismatic, firm and earnest. But the emcee — mostly known for politically charged lyrical punches — isn't rapping. He's lecturing. Dude speaks in detail about a trip he and 200 others recently took to bring supplies and hope to war-torn Palestine. He relates how his group was detained in Egypt, had its supplies taken by the Egyptian government and was given a total of 24 hours to stay in the foreign land. Despite the obvious anguish and paranoia in the Middle East, M-1 says the native people were jubilant when his group arrived. Following a short Q&A segment, the rapper receives a standing ovation.
During the annual Hip-Hop Congress' Midwest Summit — which took place in Ann Arbor last weekend (Feb. 5-6) — M-1 was the headlining artist and lecturer. "I think there is some very progressive action happening here, even though this is some of the most conservative land in the country," the emcee says between greeting fans and signing autographs.
"I'm proud to be here and to interact with students who are taking time to take leadership positions. I hope it trickles back out to our community, because that's where it makes sense."
The Hip-Hop Congress is a 13-year-old, California-based, nonprofit organization that uses college campuses as a turf to further hip-hop's social and political moves. This was the organization's sixth Midwest summit — although only the third based in Michigan — directed by Amer Ahmed, who's also the acting director of multicultural affairs at the University of Michigan. "I feel like this year we had a lot more energy and a lot more investment from the students," Ahmed says, speaking from a campus lounge. "This year, we mainly tried to focus more on activism and social justice."
Ahmed is ecstatic, showing none of the stress that usually comes with organizing an event of this magnitude. Attendance was up this year to an estimated 400, and Ahmed thinks that students are starting to realize that there are resources out there that offer a cultural and activist connection for rap fans. The event is gaining increasing support from various artist communities. And both the U.S. Social Forum and the Allied Media Conference were involved with this year's summit, in an attempt to build a bridge to those organizations' upcoming conferences in June.
In addition to M-1, this 2010's summit featured performances from such local faves as Black Milk, OneBeLo, Invincible and Buff 1 as well as the ReMINDers, DLabrie & DJ Good Peoples and Big A.
"This all just shows how powerful hip-hop is," says Big A, a Lebanese-born emcee. "You don't have to live in Palestine to know what the struggle is there."
Along with stirring, energetic performances and open discussion forums, the summit also featured its mainstay DJ, emcee, break dancing and graffiti workshops.
"You can't call yourself a hip-hop activist or a hip-hop head and not be here," says the singularly-monikered Afrika, a student and aspiring hip-hop artist. "I came here from Yak Town [Pontiac] because this is the kind of energy that I need in my life."
Kahn Santori Davison is music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.