Russell Simmons called for a boycott of the soft drink giant Pepsi at a press conference today in New York. Simmons, the chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, was joined by the organization's President Ben Chavis, who began the conference by announcing the boycott and the Hip-Hop Summit's demands for Pepsi: "One week from today we're asking all artists and supporters of hip-hop to refrain from supporting Pepsi and all Pepsico products," Chavis said. "The 'Campaign for Respect' will continue until Pepsi agrees to all of the following: Issue an apology to Ludacris and the hip-hop community, make a five-million dollar charitable contribution to the Ludacris foundation, reinstate the Ludacris commercial ads."
The controversy began six months ago when Pepsi decided to pull an advertising campaign featuring Atlanta rapper Ludacris, who also records for Simmons' Def Jam label. The deal fell through shortly after TV commentator Bill O'Reilly criticized Pepsi's choice of Ludacris as a spokesperson because of the rapper's vulgar lyrics. The Osbournes, famous for their use of foul language, are current Pepsi pitch people.
"I want to make it very clear this has nothing to do with race; it has to do with culture," Simmons said. "Pepsi had every right to their opinion. If they said, 'We're worried maybe the language [of Ludacris] is not right, we decide not to use him,' that's fine. But when they went ahead and put the Osbournes in their campaign . . . The idea that Ludacris' language wasn't acceptable? Ludacris is a college kid, not a gangster rapper as Bill O'Reilly suggested. I'm sure the people at Pepsi knew that."
Whether or not Pepsi makes the Hip-Hop Summit's concessions in the next week before the boycott officially begins, Simmons is confident that the demands will eventually be met and is already looking ahead to the benefits of reconciliation. "I know they're going to buckle," he said. "We're excited about the possibility of Pepsi and Ludacris getting together and finding foundations and programs in our community for kids at risk because that's what the foundation is for."