Hip-Hop Artists Give Fans 'Financial 411'

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On a cold Saturday afternoon in Detroit, a line stretches down the street outside the Max Fisher Concert Hall. They've come to hear some of the biggest names in hip-hop. Russell Simmons, Ciara and Doug E. Fresh. And they're not just here to perform.

They're here for a financial literacy summit, a session that forgoes diamonds and chain necklaces for workbooks and financial literature that tells fans how to manage their money.

"This book, this book is the answer to a lot of your problems, brothers and sisters," said rap star Doug E. Fresh.

On this day, rappers whose music videos could pass as commercials for champagne, diamonds and pricey clothes have pushed aside bling and will focus on the basics, giving a lecture on finance that's unlike anything you'd ever get from Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley.

"See, I like to tell you real stories because I think that you can relate to real stories," Fresh told the audience.

Using Celebrity to Promote Literacy

It's the third year for these traveling financial road shows, sponsored by the man who's been called the CEO of hip-hop, Russell Simmons, founder of the preeminent hip-hop record label Def Jam. Now Simmons has pioneered the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, which promotes voting and financial responsibility.

"The Hip-Hop Summit was founded so that we could have artists use their celebrity to lift up the community," said Simmons. "I was told once by a civil rights leader that the last leg in civil rights is financial literacy, that economic empowerment was the last thing that communities of color in this country needed. It's something that's not taught, frankly, in our school systems, not only in the projects where our artists come from, but middle America and trailer parks, anywhere. It's not taught. It's an important component to education that's just been left out."

According to Janet Marzett, vice president of human resources and administrative services for DaimlerChrysler Financial Services Americas, 45 percent of students have an average debt of $3,000.

"And what is staggering is some of the school administrators that report that students drop out of college because of credit card debt and not academic failure," she said. "So it's really important to talk about how do we build our future and how can we live out our dreams? And it starts with these summits like today."

Message Delivered by Voices They Can Trust

So for two hours, hip-hop's stars with a few finance types thrown in for good measure, give their audience the "financial 411," delivered by voices they trust in language they can relate to.

"Throwing D's on your truck or your chest is not going to improve your FICO score," said female rapper Remy Ma. "It's not going to put any money into an account for your children to go to college. You have to think of longevity and long term."

R&B singer Ciara told the audience: "Sometimes you see artists with so many pieces of jewelry on but they don't really own those pieces. Also it starts with you being a leader. Like you having your plans, live within your means."

Fresh's words of wisdom? "Always keep your bills low and your grind high."

"You drive the car, the $400,000 car around the corner and park it and instantly the thrill goes away," said Simmons. "You find it's a waste of money. And no matter how big your house is, you can only sit your ass in one seat at a time."

The artists share personal experience; their failures are equally as instructive as their success.

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