The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
As it stands, there is no conversation to be had about hip hop and its culture without mentioning Atlanta. It’s an interesting parallel: how southern hip hop once emerged as rap’s red-headed stepchild. For many years, the sound of the south has been an overlooked appendage force, and has had to look up to the mainstream success achieved by their counterparts in the north or west coast.
But through a metamorphosis outfitted with its fair share of Source Awards declarations, dance craze pandemics, and strip club anthems, Atlanta has emerged as hip hop’s crown jewel. Previous contributions are now social media-ready moments of nostalgia for the 90s babies, and the landscape has increasingly diversified its portfolio, making as much room for bonafide trap stars and Magic City champions as it does for east Atlanta love letters and trips to Mirrorland.
Simultaneously, the city’s infrastructure underwent its changes as Atlanta has become an enterprise in and of itself. The city skyline now represents a space in which African-American creatives, entrepreneurs, and tech startups alike can thrive without lack. Resources are in abundance, and the city is in a critical period in which its inhabitants are threatened by the realities of outside interests, hacking away at its integrity. But, on the flip side, enlarging its ever-reaching scope.
Atlanta is now inescapable, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll find that its evolution mirrors that of hip hop itself. Since its birth in 1973, in the city of the Bronx, hip hop has undoubtedly gone from rebellious problem child to an endearing showpiece. Hip hop has entered rooms not traditionally built for its presence, sparking conversations not traditionally associated with its being. In addition, hip hop has influenced every part of a culture not traditionally crafted for its consumption. So, when discussing a moment to highlight the effect of hip hop on popular culture, politics, entrepreneurship, technology and business, what better setting to select than one whose story effortlessly matches the resilience of this beloved genre and culture? Welcome, the first annual REVOLT Summit x AT&T in Atlanta.
Setting up shop in the city’s 787 Windsor venue — a central hub for the Atlanta’s most exciting activations — Revolt Summit x AT&T was a rallying cry for Black excellence. Over the three-day event, crowds of hungry young Black people descended upon the site in search of inspiration and guidance in navigating the current landscape of hip hop. The three-day meeting of hustlers coincided during a powerful time in hip hop as we commemorated the 25th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die debut along with the anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death.
Aesthetically, the setup of the event was one key indicator of just how far hip hop has come, with a curated experience outfitted with strategically-placed Ciroc-anchored bars. While Instagram-worthy pop-up art galleries crafted out of shipping containers filled the venue, and Black-owned food trucks lining the edge the site.
But of course, no matter how beautiful the setup, the success of the REVOLT Summit was reliant on the substance that it had to show for itself. Furthermore, the programming throughout the event was consistently reminiscent of the elements highlighted above: of hip hop’s growth and current ability to take both social and financial command. Such motivations were not in limited quantities, and they would set the tone for a serious unpacking of Black excellence and its prime hallmark: opportunity.
Social media sensations such as B. Simone, Shiggy and Blame It On Kway revealed the keys to turning social media followers into legit dollars. While Jeezy discussed his journey of leveraging a life from the streets into corporate success, detailing the responsibility that one must find in pivoting if any semblance of advancement is the end goal.
”I used to [not be able to] pay my phone bill,” the Snowman recalled on day one, before meeting the interjection of Dr. Paul Judge, saying, “Now you own a phone company.”
The theme of pivoting was in full effect as DC Young Fly, Karlous Miller and Chico Bean took to the stage for a rendition of their 85 South Comedy Show. What transpired was an impromptu pitching session for the cluster of Black entrepreneurs within the room. As they braved the possibility of being roasted by the trio, young hopefuls lined up to speak briefly on the mic. The three comedians detailed the businesses and services for everyone in attendance, all animated in true comedic form.
The result was an organic moment of collaboration and support that continued to present itself throughout this year’s Summit. On day two, this notion was put to the test immediately as AT&T’s “Office Hours” activation started the day off.
The premise of the “Office Hours” sessions was to provide attendees with a 10-minute one-on-one conversation with a seasoned mentor, leaving them with valuable information on how to navigate their professional development. It proved to be an extension of the Summit’s commitment to going those in attendance with actionable advice and underscored the essence of genuine collaboration that colored the Summit.
Atlanta’s documented role in facilitating such opportunities of mentorship and guidance within its city was more evident than ever before. The day’s panelists included ATL natives such as Amber Grimes, S.V.P. of Capitol Music Group’s Global, Ebonie Ward, manager to Future and Gunna, and Quality Control honchos Coach K and Pierre “Pee” Thomas. Coach K stated: “There is a struggle, and you’ve got to be willing to put everything that you’ve got in your soul into something that you believe to see it through.” He and Pee chopped it up with moderator 2 Chainz in a gem-filled conversation about the empire that they’ve built with a roster of artists that include Migos, Lil Yachty, Lil Baby and City Girls.
Just some hours before, Grimes and Ward alongside Tunde Balogun of LVRN and co-manager of 21 Savage, Meezy would impart critical pieces of advice themselves. They stripped down their successes to a barrage of quotes and affirmations surrounding the humility that propelled them into higher spaces.
”There is a difference between sliding in the D.M.’s and proving that you are very valuable,” Grimes declared.
“Every pivotal point where I felt like, ‘Damn sh*t about to change’ I made no money,” Meezy shared, highlighting the pitfalls of chasing a check at the outset.
As for Ward: “I mastered the art of silence. Show them that you’re willing to work hard… Nothing happens overnight. Put in the work and take your time.”
Balogun would keep things short and simple: “Nobody cares.”
Such candid interactions appropriately bled into the third and final day of the REVOLT Summit in Atlanta. Particularly in the moments when Sean “Diddy” Combs would grace the stage. Equipped with an impalpable passion for the Summit’s impact, the entrepreneur’s very attendance ignited a deepened level of commitment from fellow panelists and attendees alike.
At one point Diddy had no choice but to hop on the stage during “The Pioneers” panel in which Jermaine Dupri, Shanti Das, Dallas Austin, and Rico Wade detailed their journey to become the respected music executives the music world knows them as.
“I have to interrupt this panel,” Diddy declared. “These are four of the greatest music executives in history, not just in my opinion. They are from Atlanta, and they represent Atlanta… Sometimes because things are moving so fast with the age of social media, sometimes you may not understand when you are in the presence of greatness… But, you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you came from. The only reason we are here is because of these four executives.”
Prior to this gesture, Diddy would also sit on the stage across the president of Combs Enterprises, Dia Simms. The two recounted their journey together as Simms oversaw the launch of Combs’ various ventures over the years.
This time the moment of genuine reflection would arrive when Diddy revealed that he would proudly be partnering up with Simms in a future business venture, citing that it was time for Simms to work with him and not for him.
But it would be hours after both instances that the audience would gather for a conversation that ultimately highlighted just how deeply rooted hip hop’s influence reaches as the Summit made room for a conversation that would bring together the voices of T.I., Candace Owens, Killer Mike, Katrina Pierson, Tamika Mallory and Steven Pargett during the “Trap The Vote” panel. While the weekend was highlighted with bright spots of inspiration and outright camaraderie, the “Trap The Vote” panel was a necessary piece to the puzzle, fully breathing life into a vision that sees hip hop as an agent for change as much as it is a vehicle for monetary and personal successes.
Topics included JAY-Z’s recent NFL partnership, black spending power, and of course, Donald Trump. The last of these sparked a heated moment between T.I., Pierson and Owens as the rapper criticized the women for their support of the sitting president. Their back-and-forth would be interrupted by Killer Mike who offered up his take.
”What y’all are seeing right now are free people arguing over who got the best master,” Mike began to an initial outcry of boos from the crowd. “I’ll tell you when America was great – seven years after the ending of the Civil War. Seven years after the Civil War, blacks within seven to 15 years accumulated over 15 million acres of land. Black people were the only skilled labor in there.”
“The most important thing is self-organizing,” he ultimately reasoned. “By the time we get to a candidate, we should have a list that says, ‘White man, white woman, these are our demands. You can meet them and get our vote or not, and we gon’ stay home and crochet and make collard greens.’ But, what you cannot do is continue to argue over who is the best master.”
The beauty of such a moment, however, lies in the ability for such conversations to take place. Such was the ultimate objective of this year’s REVOLT Summit in Atlanta: a composite of ideas that both supplement and contrast one another, but to educate and strengthen hip hop’s reign.
This freedom to express and overlap ideas was the stronghold of the REVOLT Summit. The three-day event fastened the collaboration and spirit of community that is currently thriving in Atlanta and beyond because as Diddy so adequately put it earlier in the day: “We the magic, baby. We ain’t gon’ stop.”