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Business as a Platform for Change

To Reach Racial Equality, It Will Take All of Us: Hip-Hop as a Vehicle for Change With LL Cool J

LL COOL J’s multi-faceted career is a testament to the influence of Hip-Hop culture.

Artist, actor, author, producer, entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Rock the Bells — LL COOL J’s multi-faceted career is a testament to the influence of Hip-Hop culture. It’s time to add “historian” and “ambassador” to the mix. “Hip-Hop came to be out of necessity,” he says of the racial injustices and economic inequalities that sparked the movement among black and brown communities during the mid-1970’s. “My focus is lifting up and preserving the legacy of Hip-Hop culture,” said LL COOL J, “making sure this art form is remembered in the right way and that the narrative is written correctly.”

“The culture has influenced the world in a big way,” said the ambassador in LL COOL J, “and it has always been at the forefront of the social conversation.” With the Black Lives Matter movement, education, and a presidential election as a backdrop, LL COOL J and Rock the Bells partnered with Salesforce to create a series of four videos — introduced at this year’s Lollapalooza music festival — to celebrate the legacy and timelessness of Hip-Hop culture. Each segment dives into a different core element of Hip-Hop through the voices of its most iconic figures, and offers lessons for how we can uplift and inspire those around us.

Breaking: A legacy of self-expression

One of the most important and foundational pieces of Hip-Hop culture is breaking. More than just a dance form, the displays of athleticism, energy, and passion began in New York City as a way for kids to entertain themselves, connect, and have social interaction. LL COOL J called on Crazy Legs — one of breaking’s inventors and original “B-Boys” — to relive one of his most iconic performances and reflect on his legacy in Hip-Hop culture. By landing a revolutionary move in the movie Beat Street, “Legs” not only helped bring breaking into the mainstream, he laid the foundation for the next generation of “B-Boys,” which he introduces in the video below.

Crazy Legs has come to represent Hip-Hop culture in its purest form, according to LL COOL J. “People just embracing the culture, loving it, and expressing their souls through music and through dance.”

MCing: Being authentic in your storytelling

“Hip-Hop is a truly American story,” according to LL COOL J, but one with global appeal. “That inner-city, African American/brown community story is something the world can relate to. A lot of people feel counted out. Whether you’re in a small village or smaller country, the struggle that Hip-Hop represents is part of the world story.”

Wordplay, tone, style, and beat are all key facets for which the late Guru from Gang Starr is revered as an MC and storyteller in modern Hip-Hop culture. Much more than his hit records, the depth of Guru’s lyrics have a greater impact on the culture, according to the legendary producer DJ Premier in his interview with LL COOL J.

“That prose, that spoken word, that poetry — resonates with people. There’s a level of authenticity that can’t be denied,” remarks LL COOL J on the importance of storytelling as a voice for the underrepresented. “Hip-Hop has always been a platform for those who have been silent.”

Graffiti: Putting in the work

Just as breaking is a physical expression in Hip-Hop culture, graffiti is the visual expression. Visual artist and graphic designer Cey Adams, largely responsible for forging the relationship between graffiti and Hip-Hop culture, shared his approach to developing his art, “Every single day, I literally put on a hard hat and boots and went to work.” That ethic has carried forward into a portfolio that spans album artwork, murals, clothing, and commissioned public art projects. Adams even rolled up his sleeves to paint Black Lives Matter on the street in front of the White House. “I’m not going to be silent. I’m going to use my art to educate and motivate.”

His advice for aspiring young artists? “You’ve got to be tenacious and believe,” he encourages them not to measure themselves by the work of others, “because you’re the one that has to put in the work.” And the key is taking action, according to LL COOL J: “The first step to making it a hit song is putting pen to paper, writing it down, and showing up to the studio to record.”

DJing: Evolving and innovating your craft

“DJing is absolutely the center of Hip-Hop culture,” said LL COOL J. Between the DJ pair of Rob Swift and Mista Sinista, and DJ Buck Rogers, LL COOL J illustrates how classic Hip-Hop culture can evolve yet remain true to its roots. “It’s all about turntablism, speed, agility, and finesse,” he said.

“I love the craft so much,” pipes in DJ Rob Swift, who acquired his skills from watching his father. By adding a new dimension with the drum machine, DJ Buck Rogers demonstrates that Hip-Hop — like all other things — can be transformed in a positive way by technology. “It just shows you the evolution of our culture,” remarks LL COOL J, “this is the ‘old G’ bridging the ‘new G’ in our culture. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Creating a greater understanding

“My vision is that Hip-Hop is held at the highest level of prestige and success — that the artists are held in the highest regard and they’re relevant, and to make sure that we connect the fans with the culture they love,” says the historian in LL COOL J. “When people want to know about the history of Hip-Hop — where it comes from, what it’s like, who the characters are in the classic Hip-Hop universe — [I want to] continue to give them the original recipe.”

Through events like Lollapalooza, LL COOL J, the ambassador, uses his platform to help us reach a greater cultural understanding. “Hip-Hop has always been about creating something that will speak for and uplift others,” said LL COOL J, who believes that spirit benefits all communities. “We must attack systemic racism and educational inequalities from all angles. If we focus on our responsibility as a human being, be more [aware of] our personal biases, and have some empathy. I think we’re going to have a better planet.”

LL COOL J teaches about hip-hop culture

Be on the right side of the change that needs to happen. Get inspired by the stories of leaders and influencers who are using their platforms to create a more fair and equal society.

As an Emmy and Peabody Award winning journalist, Matt spent seven years as a reporter and producer for ABC News, covering the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and breaking news such as Hurricane Sandy and the papal conclave that elected Pope Francis. Prior to coming to Salesforce in 2019, he was communications director at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and the founder and executive producer of "The Axe Files" podcast featuring David Axelrod, executing the show's partnership with CNN and leading the podcast's transformation into a prime-time CNN TV show. He resides in Chicago with his wife and three daughters.

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