This year’s REVOLT Summit x AT&T went virtual because not even a pandemic could stop us. The show must go on! The event kicked off in partnership with AT&T on Friday (Oct.23) and continued through the weekend with panels, workshops, and networking opportunities designed to reach motivated creatives and hustlers who want to make an impact on the culture.
The affair was hosted by DaniLeigh and Saweetie and panelists included elite rappers, managers, executives, media personalities, and more. Everyone came to drop some serious knowledge for watchers who were able to livestream the festivities from all over the map free of charge.
Check out 11 important takeaways from this year’s event below.
1. You Can’t Stop The Culture
REVOLT Summit x AT&T kicked off with some heavy-hitters on day one. Heather Lowery, CEO of Femme It Forward, hosted “The Verzuz Effect” with super-producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz alongside Apple Music’s Larry Jackson, Instagram’s Fadia Kader and Ingrid Best, VP of Marketing Spirits at Combs Enterprises. They chopped it up about how Verzuz grew from an organic concept to a viral phenomenon that has helped boost streaming numbers for everybody that has appeared on the social media series.
What started as a friendly battle between Swizz and Timbo grew into one of the most important forms of entertainment this year. It helped Instagram fine-tune its livestream features and also gave Apple Music unique content for its first year subscription service. Apple Music also leveraged technical support to make sure the streams were improved while cross-marketing the artists and their catalogs on their platform in the time following a Verzuz battle, leading to a 300% increase in some instances. By having Verzuz available across so many platforms — from social media channels to Apple Music’s HD experience — it has become a cultural force that can’t be stopped.
Ciroc, a Black-owned company owned by REVOLT Media & TV Chairman Sean “Diddy” Combs, is the official drink of Verzuz and it is no accident. Diddy himself told Ingrid to “make it happen.” The shared vision helped formalize the Verzuz effect while providing Ciroc an opportunity to find its voice as a brand during the pandemic.
2. Embrace Your Struggle
2020 has been hard on everybody. Jemele Hill sat down with NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, influencer Justin Laboy, and rapper Super Duper Kyle to talk about navigating the perils of 2020. Focusing on work, self care, and family time were a few of the things that have been keeping these panelists busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the rest of us, nobody on the panel anticipated what would happen and some big plans got put on hold. Kyle had both a movie and an album slated to drop this year.
Wallace counted his blessings even when his expectations for the future don’t hit the mark. Mental health, introspection, and perseverance were key themes that came up as they discussed how the weeks turned into months, and how they coped with being socially isolated. Speaking up about mental health wasn’t a taboo for the moderator or any of the panelists. Getting help, finding relatable qualities, surfing TikTok and getting a pet were all strategies our panel have used to get through 2020.
In addition to public health, race issues took centerstage. The panel talked about how they intend to selectively use their platforms to inform and educate themselves and each other — even if that means taking a back seat as an entertainer and shifting the focus to activists who are doing the work on the frontlines. This leads us to our next key insight.
3. Social Justice Got Game
Wallace and Hill talked about how racial justice and sports have intersected in unprecedented ways in 2020. On a related note, 2 Chainz, in a “GOD SAVE AMERICA” shirt, sat down with video director Bryan Barber to discuss the making of “Money Maker.” HBCUs around the country adopted the song as an unofficial anthem. It features Lil Wayne and samples a marching band, giving the project some serious college halftime show vibes and much-needed Black joy. On day two, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, and LightSkinKeisha took it to the next level and honored HBCUs with an exciting performance.
Barber commented that 2 Chainz had an infectious effect on him once the director observed the ATL rapper’s work ethic. “Since March we’re going on our sixth video,” he said. According to both, they’ve only released two of the six. So, it seems they have some heat tucked for the coming months. In the meantime, these two creatives encouraged people to vote. Early voting, absentee voting, any kind of voting, just “go vote!”
On day three, this topic was covered in detail on the “Social Justice: The Intersection of Music and Sports” panel featuring Jeezy, Malcolm Jenkins, and Donovan Mitchell. It was hosted and moderated by Cari Champion. Honest voices speaking out about politics are needed, and athletes and rappers tend to be heroes in the inner city. It seems more and more that being a successful Black athlete or artist requires having leadership qualities that help set an example for followers to emulate even when organizations like the NFL are slow to accept athletes being social justice warriors.
This goes for entertainment, sports, and entrepreneurship. Gone are the days of leaving it on the field. Communities in need of change stand to benefit from this rediscovered backbone and these panelists are examples for future generations to follow. Learning and legacy go hand-in-hand and having outspoken leaders can spark people to educate themselves. As Champion said, “Education is the great equalizer.”
4. Be Prepared And Shoot Your Shot
On day one, Ne-Yo hosted the Be Heard music competition finale where six up-and-coming artists had a chance to shoot their shot and perform an original song for $10,000, and a single deal from Rowdy Records. Myles Yachts and his cut “Down Bad” took the cake, but the competition was fierce. If you want to be heard, you’ve got to be ready to shoot your shot.
This point was driven home by T.I. and Busta Rhymes in their one-on-one conversation. Busta used his early exposure with ATCQ to springboard him upwards, resulting in a string of memorable features early in his solo career. “I took advantage of that by going by these studios and just popping up...” he said. Now that is how you shoot your shot.
T.I. took a different approach to preparing himself for the rap game, admitting that he would watch BET and MTV to find out who were the artists to check for. This, in turn, inspired him to write his own lyrics, which he is very critical of. His approach was to only write something he would want to hear. From there, the conversation took a turn to the bond these two artists have forged over the years, which leads us to the next key insight from the 2020 REVOLT Summit x AT&T.
5. Build Quality Relationships
During one of T.I.’s darkest hours, when he was facing federal time for a gun charge, Busta Rhymes reached out to the rapper and stood by him when a lot of industry folks turned their backs. They discussed this with his longtime friend during the “Using Creativity To Shatter Tradition.” Busta, a man of his word, didn’t care about industry politics because the two rappers had built a quality relationship that obviously persists up to present day.
On the topic of building quality relationships, Tyga sat down with manager extraordinaire Dre London to talk about the artist’s journey to becoming a millionaire. The secret? According to London, it is all about forming a strong team. “How are [you] going to make a global career without a team? Or even having the right team?” the manager asked. Representing stars like Post Malone and Tyga, London knows a thing or two about building quality relationships and teamwork.
Even with the best of teams, 2020 threw a few curveballs that resulted in both acting and music projects being pushed back for Tyga. The good news is that means there is more in store in the days to come for his fans. Finding a silver-lining, the rapper pointed out that even though work may be at a stand still, his spending has slowed during the pandemic. Now that sounds like a man who is truly about his bread and the fact that he has millions to count means other artists might want to take note.
6. Black Art Matters
Fashion is a statement. Pictures are more profound than words alone. Black art has influenced style and visuals for thousands of years, and it is no less true for hip hop culture. This year’s event featured two panels focused on Black art and fashion.
On day two of REVOLT Summit x AT&T, the “Black Creative Brain Trust” panel featured Hebru Brantley, Kwasi Fordjour, Gunner Stahl, and was moderated by Knowledge Bennett. They talked about what inspires their creative perspective, both proactively based on their interests as well as in reaction to society.
This extends to creative endeavors and the business acumen needed to succeed on the business side. We are in dire need of Black joy and business sense during these dark times. The creatives on this panel use their artistic abilities and graphic design skills to inspire others to create even in the disposable age of social media where art may not be taken seriously.
Dapper Dan, the original streetwear designer, sat down with designer Laquan Smith and stylist Jason Bolden to talk about the role of Black people in fashion. They dissected high fashion and how Dan innovated the concept for his clientele in Harlem. The quality and craftsmanship that goes into a high fashion luxury brand speaks to the originality and specific wants of the audience that is being catered to. Black people are building these brands in real time and Dan used his creative voice to make a way for future fashion artists and designers like Smith. As Black people accumulate more wealth, there will be a greater demand for luxury lifestyle brands.
7. Invest In The Youth, Invest In The Future
Also on day two, Baron Davis sat down with a panel of futurists T-Pain, The Game, Google’s Jewel Burks Solomon, and the mind behind the Marathon Store, Iddris Sandu; and chopped it up about music and technology on the “Hip Hop as a Platform to Design the Future” panel. The global reach of hip hop has transformed culture and industry. These pioneers in tech and music discussed the overlap of music and innovation.
The way music is produced, marketed, streamed, and shared has shifted from a consumer driven economy to a creative driven pursuit for vertical integration. Sandu pointed out that hip hop is still a start up, and the creative economy will help the culture to continue to vest and accumulate value. Technology has helped creatives peel back the curtain on hip hop and see that ownership is better than signing a record deal.
On a related note, day three included a discussion featuring Guapdad 4000, TDE’s Reason, and Tezlyn Figaro on the youth vote in 2020. Many young people will be voting for the first time this year in an election that will undoubtedly shape the near future for years to come. Reason encouraged first-time and young voters to understand that they have a voice, and it is better heard when they vote.
Guapdad shined a light on the huge influence technology companies have on elections and pointed out that they are able to leave impressions on young voters even more than celebrities, public figures, and influencers. The Oakland rapper encouraged others like him to take their message back to their cities and focus on the grassroots, and if people aren’t trying to hear it, move on to others who are and don’t waste time on close-minded people. He also suggested focusing not just on the national election, but also local leadership that ultimately controls the budgets and how money is spent and on which neighborhoods.
8. Aim For The Stars, Sky’s The Limit
DaBaby opened up about his success and rise to fame during day two. He started hustling his music in the streets of Charlotte, NC until he connected with his business partner and manager Arnold Taylor. Together, they’ve ushered Billion Dollar Baby Ent. into the most elite of rap circles. While this “Sky’s the Limit” conversation alluded a lot to our earlier point about building strong relationships, it demonstrated how those relationships can strategically accomplish goals that lead to an artist becoming a mega-star.
Steve Stoute and Master P sat down and elaborated on their journeys, and how aiming for the stars and setting high goals helped them achieve and exceed their wildest dreams. “For me that’s what No Limit is about. It’s just about being bold and saying, even when people count me out, I’m not gon’ let them stop me,” Master P said. His words encapsulated that dream big mentality that is necessary to reach such a high point in any industry, but especially in the hyper-competitive world of rap.
9. Vote Or Die
With the election a mere week away, of course the topic of voting would come up. As discussed earlier, the youth vote had a panel on day two, but day three featured the “Vote or Die” panel with host Van Lathan and guests Jeff Johnson, Killer Mike and DeRay Mckesson talking about what’s at stake on the coming ballot. Black celebrities, like all Black people, should feel compelled to exercise the right to vote and advocate for those who have had the right taken away, but only if they are informed by people on the ground. Mike spoke to his political activism over the years and how he was more influenced by everyday people in his family than celebrities.
Lathan also hosted a panel on criminal justice reform with Corey Jacobs, Brittney Barnett, “Orange is the New Black’s” Dascha Polanco, and rapper Trae The Truth. How we vote determines if people will “get a life sentence or a life savings,” in the words of Barnett, when it comes to unfair drug laws. This one conversation was a reminder that the election is about more than just voting for the president. There are ballot measures and propositions that impact the criminal justice system and prison reform, which disproportionately incarcerates and over-sentences Black people and other POC for minor and non-violent offenses.
While the election is increasingly partisan, a lot of the social justice work that is needed doesn’t have the privilege of being so. While some of the panelists expressed support for the Biden/Harris ticket, Jacobs, a former convict pardoned by Barack Obama, pointed out that Black people need to have an agenda to change the narrative or else politicians will pay lip service to the issue, but not really doing anything. Actual reform come when Black people, and the hip hop community, hold politicians feet to the fire and demand change instead of asking for it.
10. Get Your Mind Right
On day three, Mario and G Herbo sat down with Dr. Jess for “Mind Games” to unpack the importance of having mental health conversations. The entertainment industry is notoriously hard on young people and it can lead to anxiety and other mental health issues. As young people grow up, these issues can go unnoticed until they become a major problem. Mario shared his experiences and how he began to feel “numb” to the industry, and how it made him operate like a “machine.” His mother’s struggle with drugs and rehab led him to open up about his own mental health.
Chicago’s G Herbo shared that he experienced a lot of trauma in his early life. He said he saw his first murder at age nine and got shot at 16, so he is no stranger to the unseen scars left behind on one’s mental health when processing traumatic events. If we are going to leave legacies, it is imperative that we prioritize healing and mental health. This goes for childhood drama, postpartum depression for new moms, and other forms of mental health issues. The first thing to do is to come to grips with the stigma of getting mental health support and then confront it. “Get comfortable bing uncomfortable,” as Mario put it.
The next step is finding help. This piece of the puzzle is hard for Black people. There are simply not enough practitioners that specialize in Black trauma. But, with enough research, there are solutions out there. Once one learns how to deal with stress or anxiety, it will feel normal and it loses its power over time. It’s natural, and prioritizing self care (nutrition meditation, therapy, etc.) is the wave. The more we talk about it, the less control it will have over us.
11. Make History
In conclusion, the 2020 REVOLT Summit x AT&T was one for the ages. The stakes were high and this year’s event expanded on last year’s even though Coronavirus did its best to throw off our plans. With topics ranging from politics to music to finance, we covered all aspects of the culture.
Overall, the festivities marked an important point in our history as a people, a culture, and a force for change in the world. Whether you’re interested in making money, designing the future; being an artist, activist; or participating in our collective healing, now is the time! History is what we make it.
Shout out to all of the panelists, moderators, hosts, and crew for making something special that will provide lessons for move-makers in the coming months and years. If you missed any of the panels or performances, be sure to check out replays on REVOLT’s YouTube or website.
See you in 2021 and remember, the world is yours!