Can Hip-Hop Make The Transition To Politics?

October 25, 2010  |  

I remember as a teenager having a conservation with my father about my musical taste – or as he saw it, lack thereof. He emphatically believed that hip-hop was a just a phase, similar to puberty, and just like puberty, I would evolve out of it to appreciate “real” music and talent.

Fifteen years later, my father was right about puberty but wrong about hip-hop.  As a 30-something career woman with a house, bills, no kids but two pets of my own to care for, I still love hip-hop and bang my head regularly and unapologetically.

Yet, the older I get, and more socially and politically aware I become of my surroundings, the more I wonder if hip-hop is capable of maturing beyond the beats and rhymes, posturing and party scene for which it is largely known. Too old to “Dougie” and too young to abandoned the scene all together, listening to what passes as hip-hop today has given me enough pause to wonder if my daddy is right to assume that the genre will fade into obscurity as just another rebellious acts of the 80’s defiant youth.

Perhaps there is hope for my favorite art form; recently, hip-hop artist Che “RhymeFest” Smith announced that he was throwing his hat in the political ring for alderman of Chicago’s South side. The 33-year-old rapper, best known for co-writing the Grammy-winning “Jesus Walks” with Kanye West, said that his candidacy would be based around leading a renaissance in his community by making it easier for people to invest in businesses and other developments.

Rhymefest isn’t the only MC making headlines for a potential foray into public office. Inga “Foxy Brown” Marchand, the original Brooklyn Don Diva, is angling for the post of US youth ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. Coyly addressing the “WTF” questions surrounding her interest, Foxy said, “Who else but me?” In later elaboration, she stated that a Foxy Brown ambassadorship would successfully merge both her loves of American-Caribbean relations as well as the youth population, for whom her music ultimately targets.

Some people, including and quite possibly my father, could think that the idea of a rap artist holding a public and political office might sound just as ridiculous as an actor holding the office of president – oh wait. But the idea may not be as far-fetch as one might think.

When it comes to hip-hop music, sadly most people have only experienced a small and very commercial element to the genre.  Mainstream radio, with its obsession of bling, ballin’ gangsters and dance tracks, rarely delivers hip-hop – or any other genre of music for that matter – of any meaningful substance. Yet there is a large contingency of hip hop artists, who mostly dominated on the underground scene that will venture beyond the superficial to cover an unending diversity of themes and topics such as the Patriot Act and global corruption, poverty, mental illness, religion, environmental issues, and police brutality.

Moreover, politics is all about creating a base, which is done by formalizing trust within the constituency.  And while this trust is often lacking among youth voters, who are more than likely to be disillusioned by the political process, there are some rappers, who have not only captivated the ears of this generation on wax but have also acted as the voice of the disenfranchised communities which are in desperate need of positive and fresh leadership.

Artists such as KRS-One and Chuck D from Public Enemy, who could be considered the elders of the genre, have been able to amass huge and loyal audiences with their political messages for social and political change. Imagine if that same energy, which has been limited mostly to wax, could be used to awaken the politically inactive and ignite a movement within the political arena?

M-1 and Stic.Man as candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor of Atlanta; Immortal Technique for alderman of Harlem; or maybe Mos Def and Talib Kweli for the 2016 independent party presidential ticket. Why not? Even if they don’t have a chance in hell of winning, their mere presence could help to not only provide a new perspective but also bring attention to issues which are usually ignored in politics.

The reality is that those hip hop artists who should run for political offices probably won’t as they are just as cynical with the process as many of their listeners. And yet the rappers, who see the political arena as just another way to hold-on to their fading spotlight, will probably be the first put on a suit and tie and scream, “Yes We Can.”

In essence, their presence will amount to politics as usual.

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