Los Angeles Times

Speaking Truth to hip-hop

The 2nd annual Truth Magazine Hip Hop Awards will honor hometown artists and innovators in the city's emerging music scene Sunday at the DuSable Museum.

While most point to rappers Common, Twista and troubled singer R. Kelly as the mainstays of the Chicago sound, a crop of hit-making new jacks are drawing the interest of record labels nationwide. R&B singer Syleena Johnson; rappers Teejay and Tru Enuff, poet Malik Yusef, Roc-a-fella Records producer Conye West and producer Steve Huff are just a few of the talents nominated.

"Five years ago we couldn't have had these awards," said Carl West, CEO of Truth Magazine and the show's founder. "We wouldn't have had enough people to nominate."

But times have changed. Competition between radio stations and music venues has benefited hometown acts, many of which are selling thousands of albums in their neighborhoods.

West created the awards to centralize the music community and honor hard-working artists and industry leaders whose efforts to build the local scene went unrecognized. Last year's red carpet affair, which honored actress Lisa Raye, retailer George Daniels and others, was sold out. This year, he expects the event to be even bigger.

More than 3,000 people logged onto City-alert.com to vote for their favorite local artists, producers and deejays. The 16 categories span the local hip-hop scene, with nominations including Top Album, Most Reliable Street Promoter, and Top Club Deejay.

Seven special awards will be issued, including the Tupac/Biggie Lyricist Award to rapper Twista, the Quincy Jones Lifetime Achievement Award to rapper Da Brat, and Person of the Year to Power 92 (WPWX-FM) programming director Jay Allen.

Common and Johnson will headline.

"I think it's excellent that I'm nominated by my city," said Johnson, a Harvey native whose hit "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go" is nominated for Top Single. "We need our community to get behind us." Chicago's hip-hop and R&B ranks have fought an uphill battle for national and local recognition. Smaller markets like New Orleans and Atlanta were flooded with coastal execs searching for talent long before Chicago was seen as the burgeoning hot spot it is today.

However, Allen, whose station is credited with breaking singles by several local acts on the radio including Tru Enuff and 3 Piece, says hometown artists have always been solid acts; the city just needed a stronger industry infrastructure to catapult them to stardom. It's a complaint that early local hip-hop acts have been saying for years.

Common and Conye West didn't get national recognition until they moved to New York. Until recently, hip-hop acts that chose to fight for local airplay and gigs were committing career suicide.

West gets calls daily from artists and fans thanking him for orchestrating the awards. "Hopefully, Chicago will continue to make good music," said West. "You can't deny good music, I don't care where it's from."

The 2nd annual Truth Magazine Hip Hop Awards, 6-8:30 p.m. Sunday at DuSable Museum of African-American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; $25; 312-980-2681.

—Ytasha L. Womack

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