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Hear & Now

This week on the music beat

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Rativism ”We’re not here to talk about music,” bellowed Min. Benjamin Muhammad at a rally to protest a proposed cut (around $1 billion) in New York City’s education budget. Technically, he was right, but with 20,000 young people looking past him for a peek at Jay-Z, P. Diddy, and Alicia Keys, it was a tough sell.

The June 4 City Hall rally marked the first time the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, led by Muhammad and rap heavyweight-turned-political activist Russell Simmons, has moved away from summits (such as recent gatherings in Manhattan and L.A.) and into action. In May, Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon, a vocal advocate of the United Federation of Teachers, approached Simmons about forming an alliance between the UFT and the HHSAN. Simmons, in turn, mobilized an army of stars in an unprecedented show of political will that may signal a new era of hip-hop activism.

”I’m very gratified that the hip-hop community wanted to join this, embraced it, and made it their own,” said UFT president Randi Weingarten. ”This should be as much a celebration of that alliance as it is a demonstration.” Over the course of the three-hour event, a steady flow of rap and R&B’s biggest names, including the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Raekwon, Erykah Badu, Chuck D, and Foxy Brown, voiced their support for the cause.

”Y’all are already taking the first step to show that we will not take what we are given,” Keys told the crowd. Like many of the stars, Keys is an NYC public schools graduate. ”We will not take this $1.2 billion cut because we are worth more than that.”

”Hip-hoppers have a great following with kids,” LL Cool J said, after addressing the crowd. ”And at least right now, in this situation, they’re being led in the right way.”

Only once did the civic-minded clash with the more Chivas-minded, as when a confused Weingarten held hands with Tigger, host of BET’s Rap City, and proclaimed, ”I need Jay-Z with me to win this fight!” After the crowd winced and laughed, Tigger quietly corrected her and Weingarten said: ”See, we all can learn.”