NPR

Kanye West, Will Smith up for Rap Honors

The J.A.M. Awards, set up by the Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music, take place tonight, at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom. The three awards are in the areas of justice, arts and music. Honorees for the Justice award are Chuck D, Cornel West and Will Smith. Honorees for the Arts award are Spike Lee, Robert L. Johnson and Lee Quinones. Honorees for the Music award are Nelly, Wyclef Jean and Kanye West.

Performances by Snoop Dogg, EPMD, De la Soul, Dead Prez, Kid Capri and others will also honor the late Jam Master Jay, who was shot to death in 2005. Mike "Mr. Kaves" McLeer of Lordz of Brooklyn talks about hip-hop in the era of Run-D.M.C., while Terri Corley-Mizell, wife of the late Jam Master Jay, talks about this year's nominees.

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Transcript

ALISON STEWART, host:

I have a little something - a little something I rather listen to right now to be honest, though.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Yeah, me too, actually, can you remember? Remember when hip-hop sounded like this?

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: All right. I may not do the rest of the segment. I may just…

BURBANK: And that was (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: That's like fine wine.

STEWART: Uh.

BURBANK: That's just like, that's just peaked. That's so good right now.

STEWART: Yeah. Classic Run-D.M.C., Joseph Reverend Run Simmons, Darryl D.M.C. McDaniels and the late Jason Jam Master Jay Mizell.

It has been five years since Jam Master Jay died. His legacy includes, of course, some of the building blocks of rap and hip-hop. But it also includes a foundation to promote the positive side, and the possibility of the music's genre while often taken to task for violent imageries, poor depiction of women.

Now a concert-slash-awards show tonight hopes to highlight the work of those associated with the hip-hop community who are making contributions in the areas of justice, arts, and music - J-A-M.

BURBANK: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: Jam.

BURBANK: Jam.

STEWART: Jam Master Jay.

BURBANK: Right.

STEWART: Award nominees include Public Enemy's Chuck D, professor and author Doctor Cornell West, actor Will Smith, director Spike Lee, rapper Kanye West. Performers will include Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Dead Prez, and DMC. The awards show is a first of its kind, co-sponsored by the Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music.

And joining us today will be Jam Master Jay's wife, Terri Corley-Mizell, who is on her way in studio right now. We also have Kaves, who's one of the co-founders. He's a renowned graffiti artist and the frontman of the band Lordz of Brooklyn.

You are very cool to come by…

Mr. MIKE "KAVES" McLEER (Graffiti Artist; Frontman, Lordz of Brooklyn; Co-founder, Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music): Thank you.

STEWART: …on a very busy day for you.

Mr. McLEER: It's okay.

STEWART: Tell us what you're doing as soon as you finish this interview.

Mr. McLEER: I have to run and pick up the awards…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McLEER: …that was just casted in steel aluminum in Williamsburg, somewhere.

STEWART: So how has the whole event been going as you're getting ready to enjoy the Hammerstein Ballroom tonight in New York City - great venue.

Mr. McLEER: It's a great venue. Everybody is hustling, you know, everybody's doing their thing to try to work every angle we can get, you know, more tickets because we were off to a slow start. Awards show, concert - what is it? Like, people get kind of confused. We had to change up the artwork a few times on the snipes(ph), but it's starting to pick up now. I'm - I bumped into Snoop last night at the Barry Hotel…

BURBANK: Sure, that happens to me all the time, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McLEER: Yeah, that was very surreal to me, too.

STEWART: It feels like an episode of "Entourage" for you.

Mr. McLEER: No, it was very - I walked in with Everlast. We were at an (unintelligible) Party with DMC - like, New York was buzzing last night about the show. And everybody there, they were so passionate. Snoop being, you know, I mean, if wasn't for him, this wouldn't really have legs because he came in, big name. But sincerely, you know, his heart was pouring out to me. And, like, I met him, you know, for the second time, and he said, yo, dog, you know, Run-DMC - blueprint, you know, like, I got my swagger - we all got our swagger from these guys; they laid it down. And it was just - it was great to hear that from him, you know?

STEWART: When you start approaching people like Snoop about being part of this whole event…

Mr. McLEER: Right.

STEWART: …this concert, which is great, but also this awards show…

Mr. McLEER: Yeah.

STEWART: …which is trying to be more positive…

Mr. McLEER: That's right.

STEWART: …about the hip-hop community. What was the response initially? I mean, you had to explain to them, like, what this thing is?

Mr. McLEER: A lot of people got it right away. It was like, hey, hip-hop community responsible. Everybody was, like, oh, it's about time. We've all been, you know, it's like, you know, everybody - there's always the negative, you know, side of what goes on and it's always hopped on, but here's where artists said, finally, okay, there's an avenue, there's a venue, but - Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay - everybody has love and respect. And, you know, everybody's still, you know devastated by it.

So it's, like, okay, finally, here's a place where we can go and get together and vent and raise some money for this program, you know, inner city school program that the JAM Jay Foundation started.

BURBANK: How do you think it is that, you know, when you look a group like Run-DMC or a guy like LL Cool J or these guys that were sort of in the kind of initial world of hip-hop, and it's pretty positive stuff that's going on, and then somehow we find ourselves where a lot of hip-hop artists are so about bling and smacking up hos and doing all kinds of things. How did it get - this is kind of a big question - but how did it seem to get off track a little bit because the foundation seemed to be really a positive one?

Mr. McLEER: The times. I don't know. Style, you know, the demand for more. I don't know, just information. It's - hip-hop was - in the pioneering days, it was more of a, you know, people expressing what's going on in the neighborhood. You know, and it was more current events, you know? It strayed away from there, but New York - it was, you know, it was very New York heavy. It was, like, what was going on? New York was a crazy time, or early '80s, or late '70s, we were going through some stuff, you know, economics, whatever.

And it was just people - kids were venting. They needed to beautify their city verbally, graffiti, break dancing - kids were being creative. You know, just a few generations later, people, you know, it's just about the artists taking -you know, being responsible. This is what we're going, you know, rap about, you know what I mean? It's, you know, it's a shame; it's a sense so this is maybe something that kind of brings it back home to New York and rally the troops like, hey, you know, back in the New York groove let's, you know, let's start - let's do something, you know?

STEWART: Yeah. This is what it was and this is what it could be again.

Mr. McLEER: That's right.

STEWART: And that's part of what the foundation is about.

Mr. McLEER: That's right.

STEWART: Let's talk about you a little bit. Let's play a little bit of your - your group covered a Run-DMC classic, "Sucker M.C.'s," and I'm going to ask you to tell me what they meant to you when you were just starting to do this. Let's listen to that.

Mr. McLEER: Okay, sure. Sure.

(Soundbite of song, "Sucker M.C.'s")

STONED SOUL (Musician): (Singing) …see, that's the life that I lead. And you sucker MC's is who I please. Take that, move back, catch a heart attack, but there's nothing in this world that all would ever lack.

EVERLAST (Musician): (Singing) Chillin' at a party in a b-boy stance. Rockin' on the mic…

STEWART: So what do they mean to you personally when you were first starting out?

Mr. McLEER: Well, growing in Brooklyn. I mean, you know, you would, you know, they were our role models - they were our idols; this was our rock and roll. We found music to rebel and to get up and to - and it was an outlet where even a kid from Brooklyn could actually get behind a mic and tell their story thanks to Run-DMC. They opened up these doors, and it spread like a virus through the burrows - out of burrows, inner city, whatever, it was, you know, New York early '80s. They were kings, man, you know, and it was just - as a kid, it was inspiring. And then I got, like, a chance encounter one day as an extra in "Krush Groove." You know that movie?

STEWART: Yeah. Sure.

Mr. McLEER: They have break dancing extras, you know? I'm there, you know?

BURBANK: How old were you?

Mr. McLEER: I had to be 13 years old, you know?

BURBANK: And you were, like - you were into break dancing.

Mr. McLEER: Yeah, I was a graffiti artist. I started out as a graffiti artist, so I jumped on the subway and you started meeting different people, different culture, different, you know, music and break dancing. All this was the elements of hip…

BURBANK: Yeah.

Mr. McLEER: …you would - it was, you know, like every - you just wanted to do it all. You were b-boy, you know, and you were part of a society and a community. And they were holding auditions, I get in the elevator, and there they are, you know? You know, I had my graffiti book, I opened it up, and, you know, they - they were human beings.

STEWART: Sure.

Mr. McLEER: You know, you're going to meet your idols or your - what - and your - they're human - and they took, you know, they took my book and they gave me - they paid attention, you know, and that's all I needed. I needed a little pat in the behind and I was, like, hey, I'm going to be Run-DMC, you know, this is…

BURBANK: Did you get in "Krush Groove"?

Mr. McLEER: Yes. I was like a little break dancer in "Krush Groove." What's - it was, you know, those little things, you know? And these guys were more than just rock, you know, rap idols, they were human beings. And I feel like they're American icons and they need to be cherished that way, and they were great role models, and a lot of positivity came out of their music, and they broke racial barriers, you know, and I felt that in my neighborhood. You know what I mean? I…

STEWART: It's also interesting that your personal story is very much what the foundation is trying to do. I mean, obviously, it happened years and years and years before the Jam Master Jay Foundation happened, but that whole idea that art and music really can change a kid's life.

Mr. McLEER: Sure it can. It really can. And it's a great thing that, you know, it targets the music programs in public schools, because I even know it to this day, you know, PS104 in my neighborhood I - if you were in, like, the three or four class, you aren't getting music.

STEWART: Right.

Mr. McLEER: You know what I mean?

STEWART: And…

Mr. McLEER: And, you know, you had to be in that one class or two class. But, you know, if you were, you know, in the more troubled classes in public school, you know, music and art is very important to enrich a young child's life. It will shape and mold you, and this is great that this is where this is targeted, you know?

STEWART: We're talking to The Kaves from Lordz of Brooklyn about the first ever Jam Master Jay awards tonight to - or those from the hip-hop community who are doing something positive.

And we're so glad that Jam Master Jay's wife, Terri Corley-Mizell, has made it to us. How are you this morning?

Ms. TERRI CORLEY-MIZELL (Co-founder, Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music): I'm good. Thank you. How are you?

STEWART: I'm so - I'm doing really, really well.

So what are you thinking about this big event tonight? Lets' just start with the real simple basic question, are you excited?

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Oh, very excited. It's going to be hot. It's going to be awesome.

BURBANK: Here, scoot in here a little bit. There you go.

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Okay. It's going to be great. We have a lot of great artists - Snoop, Kid Capri, DMC, Dead Presi - I'm sorry, Dead Prez, Papoose, Kid Capri, Mr. Sinister, Lord Vaness(ph), Bumby Knuckles, DJ Kayslay, Jim Jones, Q-Tip, De La Soul. It's just going to be great, a lot of artists that love Jason and want to support the foundation.

BURBANK: You've already got your hair up, something's going on here. What's happening? I see a lot of bobby pins and a lot of curls.

STEWART: She's getting her hair ready for tonight.

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: My pink pearls, I can't pull them out, my hair is still wet.

BURBANK: Well, it's going to look good tonight. I want to see what that looks like.

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: It better. I've been walking around New York City this morning with my hair like this; it better look good.

STEWART: Terri, tell me a little bit more about the awards and the categories and who's up for them and why?

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Okay. Well, we have a justice award and the arts awards.

STEWART: Arts award.

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: A music award. For the justice award we have Chuck D, Dr. Cornell West, and Will Smith; for arts we have Spike Lee, Robert L. Johnson, and Lee Quinones; and for the music it's Nelly, Wyclef Jean, and Kanye West.

STEWART: And what do they have in common? What is it that - about these people who you felt that they were the right people to be nominees for this award - your husband's award?

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Well, I think that they promoted social justice in the arts and music program. They're very influential, and so they - the foundation decided that they were going to nominate these individuals because they fit the part.

STEWART: Why do you think we need an awards show like this? It's - I was actually a little surprised - I keep reading it - it's the first. It's the first and I thought, why was this the first? It's 2007.

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Well, I think hip-hop is getting a lot of negative press right now, and we really need to change that and show people the positive side of it, and just let everybody know that it's not all negative. There's a lot of positive in hip-hop, and we need to show that.

BURBANK: What do you think your late husband would kind of say about the state of hip-hop, you know, if he was seeing it now? I mean, this sounds like the kind of concert he would show up for. I mean, it's given in his honor, but I mean this sounds like this…

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Right.

BURBANK: …is really what he was sort of all about during his time when he was alive.

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Well, hip-hop has changed, and Jason was all about embracing new things, so he would have gone to the concert. He loved all types of music, and artists as a whole - just period. So he would have definitely attended the show. He was about change and embracing new things, and hip-hop is going in a different direction, but it's all good; it's still positive.

STEWART: Terri, when did you start the foundation?

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: We started it two years ago and we had our event February of 2005 - right, 2005. And we just wanted to keep Jason's legacy alive and decided that raising funds for the inner city schools would be the best way to do it through music programs.

STEWART: So, okay, so, the better part of the show which is - (unintelligible) talking about the honorable part of the show and there's a part where I just want to go see this concert.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Yeah, it's going to be fine. Yeah.

STEWART: I don't mean to rude but I was, like, oh, my God, did you see who's going to be at the show tonight?

Who do you want to see perform, Kaves?

Mr. McLEER: Listen, like I said Snoop is, you know, he was - last night he was so passionate about - I can't wait to see what he comes up with. He was just - he was all about it. And Everlast is there with DJ Muggs, and he's going to do a, like an acoustic interpretation, like the song you heard before, you know, and maybe have a few Run-DMC classics.

STEWART: Right.

BURBANK: De La Soul.

Mr. McLEER: De La - no…

BURBANK: No.

Mr. McLEER: …EPMD.

BURBANK: Whoa.

Mr. McLEER: Bring it back.

BURBANK: Whoa.

Mr. McLEER: New York, look out.

BURBANK: Whoa. Whoa.

Mr. McLEER: EPMD, all right?

STEWART: Well, we know you guys have a whole lot to do today.

Mr. McLEER: Sure.

STEWART: And we really appreciate you even taking the time to come on, and good luck with the awards ceremony. I hope everything goes down just fine, just smooth, and all your nominees show up. And that's a good concert and a good jam.

Mr. McLEER: And there's still a chance to go get tickets. Yeah.

STEWART: Hammerstein Ballroom tonight. All right…

Mr. McLEER: Thank you.

STEWART: Terri and Kaves, thank you so much…

Mr. McLEER: Thank you so much.

STEWART: …for coming on by. We want to leave a minute to…

Ms. CORLEY-MIZELL: Thank you.

STEWART: …play this out because now I'm in the mood.

BURBANK: Yeah, absolutely.

STEWART: Frankly.

BURBANK: Maestro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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