NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Do hip-hop (search) stars get a bad rep from cops? Hip-hop mogul and Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons (search) says yes, and he wants to prove it with his upcoming documentary.
With him on the project is Will Griffin. Mr. Griffin is the president and chief operating officer of Simmons Lathan Media Group and an executive producer of "Hip-Hop Justice."
And this is going to be on Court TV, right?
RUSSELL SIMMONS, FOUNDER, DEF JAM RECORDS: That's right.
CAVUTO: You and I were discussing this during the break. Is this a sympathetic portrayal?
SIMMONS: No, no. It's actually news. What we are using this vehicle as, as a way to expose things that otherwise might not be newsworthy, or I'm sorry, they might not get ratings.
You know, they may be newsworthy from a humanitarian standpoint. I mean, if you want to make our system better. But they may be boring.
Sometimes when rappers experience things — for instance, when 50 Cent and Mariah Carey talked about the drug laws, the governor and the state senator and the assemblymen ran into a room and starting trying to fix the drug laws, because they were exposing to the masses something that was wrong and needed to be fixed.
CAVUTO: So it sounds like you are trying to make a sympathetic, or at least more understanding?
SIMMONS: No, no, no. We want people to understand occasions. For instance, if a rapper gets arrested and gets 20 years for having drugs, a nonviolent, first time offender.
CAVUTO: You think that's over the top?
SIMMONS: Then it's over the top.
CAVUTO: So Will, is that the goal here?
WILL GRIFFIN, CEO, SIMMONS LATHAN MEDIA GROUP: Well, the goal here is to take a look at where Russell and others and his peers have brought hip-hop culture to the point where it dominates the mainstream. But our social system has not elevated it to that level, and they're not that open.
So our goal with this program is to shine light on the system and those practices that still close-minded.
CAVUTO: But you can understand why people are a little frightened, right?
I was kind of looking at some of the more prominent cases. Jay-Z, biggest rap name in the world, you know. Then all of a sudden he has a problem. He gets on probation for stabbing a record executive; 50 cent, a crack dealer at 12, survived shootings and stabbings, jailed at 19. Eminem, of course, we know his whole story. P. Diddy cleared of weapons and bribery charges, but still, all this stuff.
There's a lot of noise, a lot of guys getting shot and killed at a young age. I'm just saying, can you blame Americans for being leery?
SIMMONS: Well, you know, the problem is most Americans are not familiar with the amount of ignorance and the amount of poverty. And so when you don't hear from those people who are in the struggle.
There's a pastor of Jam Master J. Run DMC only talked about God and survival and very uplifting ideas for their entire career. But when J was killed they called it rap violence.
But there's a mural of J in Hollis, Queens, and there are 15 kids around him, pictures of other dead kids who are not newsworthy. The fact is, these are voices for voiceless people. And they've come out of struggle. And because they have a hit record doesn't mean that their poverty is still in their minds. They come from a place where they struggle.
CAVUTO: Yes. The lyrics are pretty nasty, too.
SIMMONS: The lyrics are expressions of truths that sometimes we don't want to face. If they say "F" the police, and they live in Compton, then it's time to look at the police as well as the community.
CAVUTO: But do you think, guys, there's any truth to what Bill Cosby said a few weeks ago?
SIMMONS: Well, let me say this. I've got an answer to that because I have a very definite opinion.
Bill Cosby worked very hard for this community. He opened many doors, and he's frustrated that they will not walk through. But, the truth is, these people need our best embrace and love, not our criticism. They're all doing the best that they can as we are doing.
CAVUTO: But what's wrong with criticism? You get criticism, too, Russell. And you learn from it and move on.
SIMMONS: But I accept personal responsibility for myself. Not for others.
CAVUTO: Do you think everyone in the African-American community accepts personal responsibility, especially those in the rap area, for a lot of their problems, either with jail or beating up girlfriends or violence?
GRIFFIN: Well, not everybody accepts personal responsibility for everything. But I think by and large in this community that they do.
But the point of the show, which is more important, that your viewers should really be afraid of is that, if a rapper does something wrong he pays; his victim pays.
If the police do something wrong, we all pay, because that's really something that takes our constitutional rights down the drain.
And we're saying that rappers — who are exercising their First Amendment rights as artists — should not also have that trigger, the police doing a Fourth Amendment abuse against them.
CAVUTO: The hope that you have after this special is what?
SIMMONS: To expose, for instance, rap profiling. We followed Puffy around Beverly Hills. One of the kids who he grew up with came and visit him, and this person has a record as a drug dealer or whatever, because you come from struggle. You leave these people behind, but not always.
So these people come and visit Puffy. The drug dealer and the gangster goes home. And they continue to follow Puffy.
They have a record on Reverend Run and Run DMC. Why do we have a file on Run DMC? Instead of following Run DMC, when we don't have enough resources to follow all the people around who are threatening our communities.
CAVUTO: But a lot of rap stars kill each other. There are some of the prominent cases.
SIMMONS: Listen, there are killings going on every day that are not, you know...
CAVUTO: I know, can you blame the police for saying, you know, there's a lot of violence in this industry.
SIMMONS: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, violence in the industry is a small reflection of a big picture, what is a tremendous amount of violence in our communities that's being ignored. And the police are not protecting the community when they're following Puffy around.
CAVUTO: OK. How is the getting out the vote thing going for you?
SIMMONS: Well, we had Eminem host two summits, and 20,000 people over two times came out.
SIMMONS: Nelly hosted and 10,000 people came out in Missouri. Cash Money had 11,500 people. And each of these summits, we had 26 summits.
CAVUTO: You know what would be your worst nightmare? What if they all voted Republican?
SIMMONS: Well, it's a nonpartisan effort.
CAVUTO: I know it's nonpartisan. But would you be rolling around if they voted Republican?
SIMMONS: Whoever is in office will be accountable to this group next time, because these poor kids, they come out of struggle and they represent a community...
CAVUTO: Who do they say they're going to vote for?
SIMMONS: Well, we've had polls.
SIMMONS: And Play Station 2 funded these polls.
SIMMONS: And a great number will vote for John Kerry and many are undecided.
CAVUTO: OK. Russell Simmons, Will Griffin, thank you both very much.
GRIFFIN: Thank you.
CAVUTO: It always gets animated when you stop by. You plan it that way. All right.
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