Essence Fest Kicks Off Thursday with Youth Acts

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Friday through Sunday, singer Kourtney Heart and rapper Doug E. Fresh are hosting a block party outside the Superdome before the nightly concerts begin. Rapper MC Lyte and disc jockey Spinderella formerly of Salt-N-Pepa are also expected to appear.

"An old-school block party is going to be the ultimate," Fresh said. "It'll be something for everybody, family and friends."

Fresh, a beat-boxing rap pioneer knows a little something about having staying-power in a fickle industry. The popular dance move "The Dougie" was named after him and has been used by younger artists such as Justin Bieber, and there's even a YouTube video online showing First Lady Michelle Obama doing the dance to promote her Let's Move campaign to fight obesity in children.

"Everybody's doing it," Fresh said. "When I'm performing and I do the Dougie, the fans lose their minds."

Fresh said he hopes the block party can serve as another tool by Essence to bridge the gap between what he calls the "classic generation" and up-and-comers.

"There's something Mary J. (Blige) can bring to a new artist. That connection is what Essence is supposed to do. We're supposed to come together, grow together and share these experiences," he said.

As in years past, Essence will also tackle hot issues important to African-Americans like education and the upcoming presidential election, Ebanks said.

There will also be presentations from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his wife, Cheryl. Mitch Landrieu launched a mentoring project called "Saving Our Sons," to help curb crime and violence in the city while Cheryl Landrieu's "Girl Up NOLA" seeks to inspire and motivate young girls.

"Crime is an epidemic in every major city across the nation," Ebanks said. "The mayor is calling on the entire community to invest in the lives of young men to help prevent violence by putting them on a path to where they are able to focus more on school, on getting an education, to be less likely to get involved in violence."

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