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Natchez hip-hop summit discusses influence of music genre

Michael Watts, also known as "Young Mike," performs in Brother in Laws, during the First Natchez Hip-Hop Summit at Natchez High School on Saturday. (Nicole Hester / The Natchez Democrat)

Michael Watts, also known as “Young Mike,” performs in Brother in Laws, during the First Natchez Hip-Hop Summit at Natchez High School on Saturday. (Nicole Hester / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Panelists at Natchez’s first hip-hop summit said Saturday the musical genre can be used as a powerful communication and teaching tool.

The summit was part of the three-day Traditions Made Modern: A Celebration of African Culture in Natchez and was a Natchez Tricentennial sponsored event.

At the event, which included performances of music and dance and a look back at the development of hip-hip, a panel of 10 people discussed the state of hip-hop and how it influences culture nationwide and in Natchez.

Alderman Tony Fields said politicians and musicians must work hand-in-hand.

“As a genre, it is a form of communication,” Fields said. “As citizens and politicians, we have to be willing to hear the message — a lot of times in society, we have not been willing to hear the message.”

Rapper B DOWN, a Natchez native, said the art form is a way for people to talk about their experiences.

“First off, not every form of hip-hop is for everybody,” he said. “And the street thing, there are some people who glorify that life who have never lived it. I just talk about the things I have seen. I don’t glorify it, and I take it as a spit in the face of people who have had to live that life and never had a chance not to.”

Panelist Jarita Frazier-King said a positive message in hip-hop exists.“I feel like there is a need to find a way for our community to understand the young people,” she said. “These will be the people who bridge the gap between the community.”

The art form can also be used as a teaching tool, said panelist Jamal McCullen, a fourth grade teacher and self-described “hop-hop head.”

“In my classroom, I use what I call ‘flow-cabulary,’” he said. “It has a way of getting the curriculum to the students in a way they understand. It is beats and music they identify with, and it is conducive to learning, but I am also not the type of teacher to be shy to educate them about themselves.”

That was something the Rev. Robert Cade said he could get behind, using hip-hop as a didactic tool.

“The word music comes from the word muse, and that means to think,” he said. “When I hear any form of music, the goal is for me to think.”

Other events Saturday included a Sankofa lecture — a phrase that means to take what is good from the past and bring it into the present in order to make positive progress — at the Natchez Museum of African American Culture and a tour of downtown’s historically black churches.

Saturday evening was a harambee, a gathering in celebration of food, music and people, at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, and a special performance of Southern Road to Freedom — a musical tribute to the black experience in Natchez — at Holy Family Catholic Church.

The weekend will conclude today with services at the downtown historic churches, including Holy Family, Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rose Hill Baptist Church and Beulah Baptist Church.