A Conversation With Steve Stoute & Dan Charnas

Dan Charnas
Dan Charnas

Saturday, March 17, 11am, Austin Convention Center Room 12AB

"Don't say multicultural," Russell Simmons once told journalist Dan Charnas. "Say multiracial. It's one culture."

Simmons is partially responsible for the latter point being more true today than it's ever been. As the founder of pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam Recordings, he played an integral role in black music crossing over into mainstream culture. Think the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC remixing Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," or LL Cool J's premiere on MTV.

Dan Charnas reported on all of it for The Source, the first major-market magazine to exclusively cover hip-hop. Last year, he published the mind-bendingly detailed The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, a 672-page analysis of every rap deal that made America the colorful society it is today. He knows a thing or two about the power of the crossover.

"When I talk about crossover, I'm not talking about mixing it up, which is what guys like Nelly and Snoop did," he says, referring to Nelly's 2006 collaboration with country hit-factory Tim McGraw and Snoop Dogg's 2008 blues choker "My Medicine." "I'm talking about a system of white supremacy whereby a black artist, in order to get any mainstream exposure, has to change their musical style or whiten up their music. Nelly was already a pop star when he made that song. Snoop was huge before he made 'My Medicine.'"

Charnas references Michael Jackson putting Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It" and Lionel Richie's "Deep River Woman" collaboration with Alabama as prime examples of pointed crossover, moments when a black artist made the conscious decision to fall in with a white market. When Barack Obama was elected president, Charnas knew the end of music's racial divide was at hand.

"Obama represents the beginning of what you might call the final conflict against white supremacy," he says. "There's no question in my mind that the 21st century, for black artists, is a much more equitable playing field than it ever was in the Seventies and Eighties."

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