I will admit without reservation that I am proud that hip hop changed the language of American culture, and also the language of inclusion in the rest of the world. But that was nothing compared to what social media has done. Social media is the new hip hop, the new rock and roll, the new equalizer, giving voice to the previously voiceless, the sound and thunder for social justice, the intimate forum for honest integration, which the new America yearns for, even before it becomes a physical reality – it is what the new America yearns for, what it aspires to. Social media made this happen. I watch its progress, I promote it shamelessly, I love it.
I remember stepping off a plane in Amsterdam and being greeted at the gate by a young guy who said, “Hello Mr. Simmons, welcome to the Netherlands.” I had never been called Mr. Simmons in my life. The only Mr. Simmons I knew was my dad. But, I had my first hit record with Kurtis Blow, Christmas Rappin’, and rap music had gone global and the respect we received was tremendous. The year was 1980. It was the beginning of a movement that for the following thirty years would connect hundreds of millions of young people around the world to the heart of mainstream culture. With just a pad and pen, hip-hop became the strongest cultural force this world had seen since the invention of rock & roll that displaced two presidents and effected social and racial and gender change previously unimaginable, in the sixties and seventies. And thirty years later, what has come out of hip hop has become the New American Mainstream and taken over the globe.
Today, we are far more connected than we have ever been in the history of this planet. With a shared cultural experience that young people from Havana to Dakar to Shanghai to Oklahoma City have, the invention of social media in general and Facebook in particular have broken down social and racial barriers more powerfully than any other cultural force since the advent of hip hop. What took thirty years to accomplish in hip-hop, has taken only a few years to be achieved online. With the power to inspire revolutions, nurture love and birth new ideas, social media has been an enormous catalyst for global communication, breaking down cultural boundaries and thus creating the fourth largest country in the world, Facebook. It has been the womb for massive integration, which – although has not yet been achieved offline -is something that the new America aspires to. Social media is the rock and roll of the sixties, the hip-hop of the 80’s, the radical new equalizer, giving parity to new voices and levelling the access to culture, politics, and social justice.
The old media is only just beginning to get this, and has at times been slow in understanding the cultural power of what is happening. But, it is the influence of young people that will continue to revolutionize the way in which we communicate, and we all know that when communication changes, society changes with it.
We saw this with the invention of the radio, then the television and now the computer screen. Whether it was the young people in Iran who used Facebook and other forms of social media to rise up against their government or students at University Of California Merced who convinced First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at their commencement or so many other examples or crowd-sourced social action, this is the power of the connected world. The ability to create fast-paced change, while building a sustainable, international movement. That is the true essence of hip-hop and that is why I am passionate about the power of social media.
With my partner, Jim Breyer at Accel Partners, who helped fund and advise Facebook, I launched my own venture, GlobalGrind.com to tap the power for this movement for the communities I serve and give voice to a new generation of bloggers and cultural entrepreneurs. Facebook is the hub of social activity. I am excited to be part of the movement, and urge my partners in corporate America to radically realign around this new voice, this new medium, the same way I did around hip hop.
BY Russell Simmons on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/unclerush