What is the Black August project and what does it tell us about hip-hop activism? How does this compare to the groups discussed by Clay (BE SPECIFIC)
What is the Black August project and what does it tell us about hip-hop activism? How does this compare to the groups discussed by Clay (BE SPECIFIC)
The reality rapper on conspiracies, the presidential race, the industry’s flaws and his many run-ins with the US government
Felipe Andres Coronel, aka Immortal Technique, is more than just an underground hip-hop legend – he’s an activist, humanitarian and a revolutionist. Born in Peru and raised in Harlem, New York, the 34-year-old has struck a chord with those seeking an alternative voice in hip-hop. He represents a thorn in the side of the mainstream with his messages about class struggle, religion, government and institutional racism.
He is currently touring the UK and will be performing with Lowkey – a British hip-hop artist and activist – at a sold-out Electric Brixton tonight.
What are the themes of your music?
A better response is: go on the internet and steal all my music and listen to it. If it speaks to you, then feel free to support me. But if you want a real answer to that question, I’d say that the music I make is very personal, passionate and tells a story of sacrifice. There are a lot of historical and political references. People ask me: ‘Why do you rap about politics?’ I’ve always tried to reflect real life in my music and go beyond the experience of the inner-city ghetto of America. I like to have multiple dimensions in my music.
What do you make of Lowkey and the political/conscious hip-hop scene in the UK?
It’s a very positive thing to have multiple dimensions to any hip-hop scene. So I always think the voice of reason is great to have. People such as Lowkey and Akala rap about real life. Reality rap is what I call it. I think the UK has a rich culture of immigrants who are coming from Africa and Asia and share experiences that are so unique, it’s only right that they document it and recount their struggles too. Without that diversity you’re going to end up like we did in the States, and I hope that never happens. We are fighting a real guerrilla war in America in terms of getting independent music out, getting out music with a message. They are resisting. We’ve found a home-base to fight from in the jungle. They’ve found it too hard to wipe us out; we’re not going anywhere.
Who is resisting and why are they doing it?
It’s more the industry. There are forces within the industry who like very much what I do. Why? Because it’s a money-maker. It’s more people who see the music I make as a threat to the status quo of hip-hop. They don’t want people to hear about Palestine, slavery or torture. They want us to just dance and sing and smile and pretend that the world is OK. They believe hip-hop is sheer entertainment. Entertainment can be used for many things: to inspire and educate but also to pacify, to keep people stupid and preoccupied with things that aren’t important.
Where does the anger in your music come from?
I think it’s righteous fury. If someone shot your mother you’d be angry, right? But would you be wrong for being angry? No. I’ve heard people criticise me for the most ridiculous things, calling my music abrasive. If you’re troubled by the words I speak, then you should probably hang yourself because the world is going to tear you apart or is too real for you to accept. I’m not offended by fuck, shit, pussy, dick, motherfucker. You know what I’m offended by? I’m offended by seeing a child in Gaza who has had his skin burned off by white phosphorus. I’m offended by seeing the graves of civilians that are there because they are the “collateral damage” of a drone strike in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I’m offended when I see people perverting Christianity, Islam or Judaism for their own political purposes so they can justify taking land or killing people in the name of something.
How have you evolved as an artist since your first album, Revolutionary Vol 1?
I just used to write rhymes in my mind and then I tried to find beats to fit them. By Vol 2 I was mastering and perfecting the flow and by The Third World album my flow had a developed a lot more. I had to learn to breathe with my diaphragm rather than my lungs. I learned to expand my arms so I get the extra 10% of breath that opera singers do when they sing. I had to go to a breathing coach, and there is no shame in that. If [rapping] is your instrument, learn how to use it.
Who are your musical influences?
Most of my lyrical influences came from people who didn’t really do hip-hop. Like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali – people who I thought were incredible speakers. But in terms of rap, I’m talking KRS-One, Ice Cube, Chuck D, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Big Punisher, Lord Finesse, DITC.
What was involved in making the 2011 documentary film The [R]evolution of Immortal Technique, and what did you learn?
That I hate documentaries about my life but at the same time I loved making this. It was a seven-year-long project. We went everywhere. We did hip-hop shows from one corner of the Earth to another.
What places hit you the most?
Afghanistan in terms of seeing struggle, poverty and strife. But in Haiti after the earthquake, I saw some of the worst conditions in my life. I saw a 10-year-old girl who had become the surrogate mother of all these little three- and four-year-old girls whose parents had perished. She was feeding them and giving them water so they wouldn’t die. That is a 10-year-old girl! There were four or five families in one tent. When I went to Peru I saw a 10-year-old girl prostituting herself on the street. That affects you differently.
What do you make of Obama’s first term as president?
Why are we held prisoner by this two-party system when neither of them represents the true values of America? Romney’s position is fairly deceptive. Obama painted him as a man who will say anything to get elected. That’s what Romney is. Romney said he wasn’t anti-abortion when he was governor of Massachusetts, then when he was running for the Republican party he is the most anti-abortion guy in the world. He said he would start a war with Iran but when he realised the economic and political reality of starting another war and how much America is against it, he began mirroring Obama’s policy.
What should the world expect if Romney becomes president?
I think he would make it end up looking like [George W] Bush’s third term as president. Obama is still a war president. He didn’t shut down Guantánamo Bay; he deported more people than Bush did; he supposedly ended the war in Iraq just to expand in Afghanistan; he signed the National Defence Authorisation Act, which is very draconian. I have a lot of problems in actively supporting someone like that.
In your song Point of No Return you say the government is after you. How much truth is in that?
I’ve definitely had a lot of run-ins with the government. They have tried to do my father for taxes; they thought I was hiding money with him. I have had my passport confiscated and have been questioned by Homeland Security upon coming home – not from Afghanistan but anywhere in the world.
Do you see yourself making music forever?
In some capacity yes, but the soul has to develop in some form. I like writing books, stories and essays – I may do that. I use to teach ancient history in prison for children. I found a lot of gratification in that because I saw people’s lives turn around.
Your lyrics contain a lot of religious messages. What does religion mean to you and do you follow a faith?
If I told people I was a Muslim, people wouldn’t say: “Wow, that’s wonderful you’ve found inner peace in your life by embracing Islam.” They’d ask: “What type of Muslim are you? Are you one of them fucking Wahabbi, Sunnite, Salafi psycho-niggas? Are you down with Hezbollah and them?” If I told people I was Jewish, they’d ask: “Do you support Israel and do you support the colonisation of Palestine?” It’s irrelevant whether you call yourself a Christian, Muslim or Jew because if you don’t reflect that in your life, you aren’t that at all. I have always been hounded by people about it; people try and pry it out of me. I believe in God and have a faith that’s very personal to me. That faith is between me and God. We have polarised religion, rather than it being a personal reflection of your relationship with God and how you communicate with God. I’d rather be friends with a good atheist than a bad religious person. Your religion is suppose to ennoble you, but if all it makes you do is become contemptuous of other people, or make you say other people are going to hell, your religion has failed you, or rather, you have failed your religion.
What struggles do you face with being a “reality rap” artist and people trying to pinpoint any sort of hypocrisy in your life?
I don’t shy away from anything. As human beings, we’re all works in progress. If I can get some constructive criticism, you’re helping me grow as a human being. Sometimes I realise I need to grow. It happened with me trying to take the word bitch more out of my music. I’m not a “gay-rights champion”, but if I’m going to talk about people being oppressed in my music, then aren’t some people oppressed if they don’t have the right to marry the person they want in a society that’s supposed to be free? They shouldn’t be punished by a government because of the way they are born.
Do you feel a lot of your music is about conspiracies?
I wouldn’t call it conspiracy. I would suggest people research – for example when I said Bin Laden was part of the CIA and people said “that’s not true”. There was a poll in the US and it showed less than 15% knew Bin Laden knew was employed by US. When people say it’s a conspiracy I welcome the criticism, because the music I make is backed by historical facts. I’m not afraid to be wrong or debate it. I won’t allow people to marginalise my music.
What do you do in your spare time?
Read, sleep, work out, box, spend time with people I love.
Why do you use the N-word so frequently?
I would say I use it less frequently than I have before. I have made a conscious decision to replace it in the music I make. I understand a lot of people have used that word to express camaraderie. In the States we remade the word to be something that reflected unity among ourselves. I think it was a confidence-builder and a way of showing that hip-hop could supersede any of the stereotypes thrown on top of them. The only problem is that when it became corporatised, someone else decided what those stereotypes would be replaced with.
Will you continue to use the word?
I think eventually I will have to phase it out. I don’t want to be 50 years old and yelling to my children like that. I think what people need to keep in mind is the way individuals are introduced to that word is incredibly unique for everybody’s experience. There is a certain power in reclaiming language.
Do you ever see yourself starting a family?
I was born with the disease I inherited from my father – it’s called responsibility. It prevents me from dropping seeds in random women and not taking care of children like a man should. When it’s time for me to have a family, I intend to dedicate my life to that. It’s hard to juggle that as an artist and a revolutionary.
In one corner is Kendrick Lamar, from Compton, Calif., one of the most daring and sometimes vexing rappers of the day and one who is inverting the gang-rap legacy of his hometown while working under the auspices of one of its founding fathers, Dr. Dre.
In the other corner is Meek Mill, from Philadelphia, a bully of a rapper who, while not as innovative as, say, Drake, has been the most exciting young conventional hip-hop star of the last couple of years since he signed with Maybach Music Group, the label with Rick Ross at the helm.
Superficially they are at opposite poles: Mr. Lamar is an anointed-by-acclamation savior and a reluctant hit maker while Meek Mill is an excitable star with a firm grasp on what makes people move. But each has a strong new major-label debut album and something in common: they’re storytelling purists. Mr. Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope) and Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” (Maybach Music Group/Warner Brothers) are two very different accomplishments but accomplishments all the same. They albums also effectively demonstrate how two artists who value the same fundamentals can choose wildly different paths to express them.
Mr. Lamar’s is the bolder route. His is a totally unhurried album, easily the most ambitious in hip-hop this year, maybe the most ambitious in any mainstream-focused genre. His songs unfold at the speed of life as it’s often lived — slow, meandering, often unremarkable. Every time some action threatens to accelerate the pace of Mr. Lamar’s album, in comes a voice-mail message from his mother killing the buzz.
That’s part of this album’s narrative strategy, which includes, on top of Mr. Lamar’s tremendous verses, prayers and conversations and different voices and recollections and interludes, all in service of one overarching story: Mr. Lamar’s tale of ducking Compton’s rougher corners to find himself artistically.
The album “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” recalls the intricacy of early albums by De La Soul, but without the humor. It has the blushing charm of the Pharcyde and the grounded funk of early Outkast, as well as songs that carry an evident sonic torch for his city’s gangster-rap past. Mr. Lamar has also probably listened to some Freestyle Fellowship, the Los Angeles underground heroes who counterbalanced that gangster rap in the early ’90s with inventive wordplay. He’s halfway toward bending words in the same manner as they did and likely for the same reason: to escape.
Take this segment from “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” which comes after Mr. Lamar teases a possibly dark past:
Would you say my intelligence now is great relief
And it’s safe to say that our next generation maybe could sleep
With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor
Instead of a boy with a chopper
That hold the cul-de-sac hostage
Kill them all if they gossip
The songs on this album are, almost without fail, dense and quiet, highlighting the changes over the past two decades in hip-hop’s scale and gloss by rejecting them outright. (A notable exception is the springy “Backseat Freestyle,” a robust accomplishment in any era.)
It’s on course to sell more than 200,000 copies in its first week, an outlandish number for an artist with no significant radio presence but not for one with a committed online fan base. In this he’s like an indie-rock breakthrough act of the mid-’90s, tapping in to a reserve of commercial, anticentrist sentiment and proving that the market is flexible enough to accommodate dissent.
In the abstract, Meek Mill — a Rick Ross protégé, preserver of big-money triumphalism — is exactly the sort of artist Mr. Lamar is pushing back against. When he raps, Meek Mill sounds as if he’s calling home-run highlights on “SportsCenter.” His flow is all jabs, nothing smooth about it. His songs sound about 50 percent louder than anything else on the radio.
This is the other side of Mr. Ross’s maximalism. Had he come out on his own, Meek Mill would just be shouting, but under Mr. Ross’s umbrella he’s exulting, a logical response to the single-minded commitment to success his boss employs.
But of all Mr. Ross’s underlings, Meek Mill is the cleverest and the one most capable of breaking the template the big man has mapped out. On his earliest mixtapes Meek Mill was more of an obvious technician than he is now, and his recent “Dreamchasers” series of mixtapes have in places been sober complements to hits like “House Party” and “Ima Boss.”
What Meek Mill wants to do is tell stories, unfashionable though that may be. On “Dreams and Nightmares” he tries to have it both ways, sneaking moments of heartbreak into otherwise straightforward boast sessions. But he also has a surprising number of stand-alone short-story songs. “Who You’re Around” is a scathing indictment of a friend turned adversary — “I woulda rolled for you, even in the same hearse/Same cemetery, bury me in the same dirt/We had a plan but I guess it ain’t work” — and “Tony Story Pt. 2” continues a tale of underworld mistrust begun on his “Dreamchasers” mixtape. On “Traumatized” he lashes out against the man who killed his father: “I was only a toddler, you left me traumatized/You made me man of the house and it was grinding time.”
Early critical response likened “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” to “Illmatic,” the debut album by the revered Queens rapper Nas, but the comparison holds truer for “Dreams and Nightmares.” While “Illmatic,” like Mr. Lamar’s album, was primarily a document of observation rather than participation, it didn’t reject the tastes of the day and wasn’t a coherent narrative concept album. It aimed for success, much as Meek Mill’s does.
Mr. Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” is as much of a slog as any great album in recent memory and probably the chewiest major-label hip-hop album in more than a decade. It necessitates ways of listening that went out with the Clinton presidency or with the advent of the seven-inch single. There are almost no obvious entry points, nothing bite-size to latch onto.
“Dreams and Nightmares,” by contrast, is highly legible; even its more daring songs are straightforward. But just because Meek Mill doesn’t play with cadence or voice or melody like Mr. Lamar doesn’t mean that he’s not thoughtful. His story songs are intricate, external to Mr. Lamar’s internal. He also builds tension in a way that Mr. Lamar, with his perma-cool and level presence, struggles to replicate. Mr. Lamar eases into the beat when he’s not gingerly dancing around it; he is never dominating. That’s why he remains largely a cipher.
What Meek Mill also has that Mr. Lamar lacks is hits — “Amen,” a loose and jubilant Drake collaboration, and “Young & Gettin’ It,” a fake-Drake song featuring Kirko Bangz that’s saccharine and dim. Meek Mill seems to be distancing himself from it by using Auto-Tune, as if he knows the song is beneath him.
Mr. Lamar has a semi-hit, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” about the perils of alcohol and the strain it places on the dispossessed, a song as sinuously catchy as can be. But there is no mistaking it for a compromise. He’s a speaker at a podium hoping people will lend him their ears, while Meek Mill is in the crowd, grabbing them by the neck and demanding that they pay attention, then rewarding it.
Has the commercialization of hip-hop eliminated any possibility of its usefulness within a struggle for political power or social justice?
200-250 words and remember to integrate specifics from class and reading
Agree/Disagree (and why): “Hip Hop is America. Its only real crime is being so much so. It boils ‘mainstream standards and practices down to their essences, then turns up the flame. Violence, materialism, misogyny, homophobia, racialized agony, adolescent views of sex and sexuality . . . . These are the common, bankable, all-American obsessions. They’re the underbelly items that have always defined this country’s real, daily-life culture. What that means is the top-of-the-line hip-hop and its true artists (be they ‘mainstream’ or ‘underground’) soar on the same terms that America’s real artists – and everyday folk – have always soared: by being un-America, by flying in the face of the fucked up values and ideals that are wired and corroded in this country’s genetic code even as no-lip lip-service is given to notions of equality, justice, and fairness” (Ernest Hardy)
Remember 200-250 words and specifics from class
Casablanca, Morocco (CNN) — In the poor suburbs of Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, home-grown hip-hop artists blare from radios, clubs and street corners around the clock.
Unlike the majority of their commercial American counterparts, these rappers don’t talk much about women, partying and luxury lifestyles; but poverty, illiteracy, crime, and the high cost of living.
According to a recent report from the World Bank, nearly half of young Moroccans are either unemployed or out of school.
For 28-year-old rapper Mohammed Hoummas, who goes by the stage name Si Simo, the situation reflects a growing inequality between Morocco’s rich and poor. Indeed, his most popular song, “Kilimini” speaks directly of the wealth gap in Moroccan society.
“They have croissant for breakfast while we eat bread dipped in cheap oil. They dine on grilled meat while we fight over an ounce of meat like worms,” he sings.
“Why did I write ‘Kilimini?’ Look around where I live and you’ll understand why I wrote it. To say it simply: Here in Morocco the people who have power, they can do what they want, say what they want, and no one will judge them or say anything to them,” he said.
As a child Si Simo listened to Bob Marley and was inspired to write his own music. He says he couldn’t afford to buy a guitar so his words became his instrument, and he started rapping at 15.
“I expressed my feelings about things I lived through, the things that hurt me, the life experiences that marked me,” he said.
Internet penetration in Morocco has increased from just 15% of the population in 2007, to 49% in 2011, according to Internet World Statistics.
As such, the country’s rap and hip-hop scene has exploded in popularity in urban centers — where internet access is highest — as home-grown artists take advantage of the ability to share and distribute their productions more widely.
National festivals such as Casablanca’s Casa Music Festival and capital city Rabat’s Mawazine increasingly showcase the talents of both domestic and international musicians, including the likes of Busta Rhymes and Kanye West.
Now a stalwart on the scene, Si Simo gained fame with the rap group Fez City Clan, making enough money from concerts and touring to move out of his run-down neighbourhood in Casablanca.
He still returns regularly, and is regarded as a local success story and inspiration.
“I listen to rap and fusion music, but mostly rap, and especially Si Simo because he’s from this neighborhood,” said a local man. “I’m 19 and I’m a rapper. I think hip-hop is a way to express ourselves. I think it can change a lot of things,” said another.
But that change can come at a price.
In February of last year, as the Arab Spring swept across the region, pro-reform protests erupted across Morocco.
The government reacted swiftly. Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, announced several reforms, including new parliamentary elections, civic and social equality for women, and recognition of the indigenous Berber language as an official state language along with Arabic.
But for many, especially among Morocco’s disenchanted young, it wasn’t enough.
Rapper Mouad Belghouat, better known as “Al Haqed” (“The Enraged One”), became a figurehead for the pro-reform February 20 Movement when he was arrested in March 2011 for his song “Kilab Al Dawla” or “Dogs of the State,” in which he criticizes the police for brutality and corruption.
“You are paid to protect the citizens, not to steal their money,” read the lyrics. “Did your commander order you to take money from the poor?”
The song asks the police to arrest the wealthy businessmen who, he says, have divided the country up for themselves.
A Casablanca court sentenced Belghouat to one year in prison for hurting the image of the police.
For Ali Chabani, a Moroccan sociology professor, the discontentment expressed in the lyrics of Morocco’s growing band of hip hop artists is an inevitable product of the country’s lack of social unity:
“The youth started suffering from unemployment, they started feeling marginalized and found it difficult to afford a dignified life or to establish themselves in society and so began to feel excluded,” he said.
Follow the Inside the Middle East team on Twitter: Presenter Rima Maktabi: @rimamaktabi, producer Jon Jensen: @jonjensen, producer Schams Elwazer: @SchamsCNN, writer George Webster: @George_Web and digital producer Mairi Mackay: @mairicnn.
by Ronald Grant
posted October 19, 2012 at 7:15AM PDT | 7 comments
Rob “Biko” Baker, from the League of Young Voters joins in to discuss Hip Hop’s role in what may be one of the most highly-politicized eras in American history.
It’s fairly safe to say that Hip Hop’s political involvement has changed drastically since GZA flippantly dismissed 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro saying, “The hoe didn’t win / But the sun’ll stll come out tomorrow…” on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Clan In Da Front.” During the last two elections we’ve seen Questlove of The Roots campaigning for Barack Obama at the most grassroots level, while Jay-Z and Beyonce have hosted a $40,000 per seat dinner for the Commander-In-Chief. But we’ve also seen Lupe Fiasco call the President “the biggest terrorist” while Ab-Soul called him “just a puppet.” You can make an argument that we’re in the midst of one of the most highly politicized eras in American history.
The dynamic of the conversation has changed, yet it seems, at least anecdotally judging by sheer volume, not as many emcees are interested in the 2012 election. Have we essentially traded quantity for quality over the last few election cycles? Instead of just blanket endorsements from rappers giddy at the possibility of having a black president, we now hear about drone strikes, mid-term elections and Israel versus Palestine. Moreover, this talk isn’t coming from the usual suspects like Chuck D and Talib Kweli—there’s a variety of commentary to choose from regardless of your political leanings.
As more and more rappers both throw and quietly remove the fitted hats from the political arena, we ponder Hip Hop’s impact and interest in the 2012 Presidential Election. On board are Rob “Biko” Baker, the Executive Director of the League of Young Voters and frequent HipHopDX contributor, Ronald Grant.
HipHopDX: According to data provided by the US Census, African-Americans among the coveted 18-24-year-old age demographic voted in record numbers during the 2008 election. But the last election also saw a number of Hip Hop artists—at least on the most basic level—get involved in the political process. What was the appeal?
Biko: We also saw record numbers in 2010. Between our phones, Twitter and so many other ways young, black people are more connected than ever. For some that allows us to be more informed. And if you look at the average Hip Hop artist, they’re young, black men also. So in addition to that sense of connectivity, there’s a tremendous amount of influence.
Ronald: It was such an interesting thing to see so many Hip Hop artists in support of Obama in 2008, though they seemed to have little to no interest in the election or political process until then. I hate to say it, but I believe the main reason this happened was because voting for Barack Obama in 2008 was basically the trendy thing to do. This seemed true among so many populations, but especially young people, first-time voters, college students, and urban professionals. Hip Hop fits into all of these molds. People from each of those walks of life have listened to and lived Hip Hop for a while now. So in a sense, the Obama campaign may have inadvertently lit a fire among Hip Hop by targeting the youth vote so heavily four years ago. I believe another main reason that artists in 2008 were riding so hard is two-fold: it’s something that is billed as extremely important yet is fairly easy to do And it was also branded incredibly well. Hip Hop has always had a history of falling in line with slick, masterful marketing. The Obama juggernaut from 2008 probably made both Hip Hop artists and fans feel they were part of something historic but still modern and cosmopolitan. It managed all this while neatly packaged with a bright, red, white and blue Obama sticker.
“[President Obama] told us this was gonna happen. The one thing that I learned on the campaign trail was that 80 percent of Americans think the political process is a hierarchy: ‘Why won’t he just wave his magic wand and make it happen?’ I’m like, ‘Are you going to vote in the midterm election?’ and they’re like, ‘Nah.’ And I’m like, ‘You do understand that the only way those ideas are going to come to fruition is through the Congress?’” –Questlove, Mother Jones interview.
DX: Where did all these artists disappear to in 2012?
Biko: Certain artists thought it was cool to be political, and there were some artists that thought it was just cool to be cool. Obama’s campaign was based on these concepts of hope and change. And if you look at the recession, unemployment and a lot of other factors, it’s understandable why some people don’t feel that same sense of hope going into this election.
Ronald: I personally didn’t see as many Hip Hop artists in such strong support for President Obama during this election cycle. I remember seeing a YouTube video of Bun B sporting an Obama T-Shirt and Diddy commenting on John McCain’s infamous “that one” debate debacle, among other examples. And even though artists like Snoop Dogg, T.I. and A$AP Rocky have come out in support of Obama in 2012, it did seem that the general energy of voting again this year just wasn’t the same among Hip Hop artists. I’d probably go back to the idea of voting for Obama being the trendy thing in 2008, and four years later, it’s not. I’d attribute that to general apathy amongst both these artists and the public at large as to why we’re not quite seeing the levels of support we originally did. And on top of that, the job of emcees is to be just that…emcees, not political leaders. So maybe this disappearing act is something we should have seen coming on the part of major Hip Hop artists.
“You might get killed if you don’t listen enough / Well I guess I’m dead / ‘Cause I ain’t listen to Puff / Best believe our system it sucks / And a person like me don’t believe in assisting in such / Nah I be rippin’ ‘em up / But for every pond there’s different ducks / I believe if you participate at a lower level / You can get a lot more things done / Like working with the alderman / But I ain’t alterin’ this song to be a political statement / Let’s take it back to the basement…” –Lupe Fiasco, “Outty 5,000”
HipHopDX: Given all of the recent voter registration problems, and what happened in the 2000 election, do artists like Lupe who don’t participate in the presidential election have valid complaints?
Omar: Absolutely. People love to throw around that cliché about how those that don’t vote don’t get the right to complain, but to me, that’s 100% bullshit. If you’re a taxpaying American citizen, you can criticize your elected officials all you want as long as it’s not libelous. It should be noted that the emcees mentioned above are addressing separate issues. dead.prez and Kendrick Lamar are by-and-large talking about either abstaining from or withdrawal as a form of protest from what they feel is a fundamentally flawed political process. Generally speaking, they haven’t necessarily gone on record telling other people not to vote. And given that the popular vote does not determine the election, K-Dot and dead.prez aren’t harming anything in my opinion. Lupe’s situation is a bit more complex. Based on his previous support of Rhymefest’s Alderman bid, it appears he supports the election process on at least a local level. His stance on the presidential election has been pretty consistent.
Biko: No. Looking back over our country’s history dating back to 1824, there have only been four elections in which the candidate who received a greater number of electoral votes won the presidency, even though he didn’t win the popular vote. Those four elections that didn’t match up were won by Presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and more recently George W. Bush.
You’ve got Al Gore—one of the people most infamously associated with the [seldom] discrepancy between the popular and electoral vote—campaigning for either an end to or a reform of the Electoral College. I’m a Green Bay Packers fan. I’m from Wisconsin. And everyone knows that touchdown call in the infamous Monday night game [this season with the replacement referees] against Seattle was bogus. It wasn’t a catch. But, guess what? The Packers still had to take the field the next game and continue trying to make the playoffs and the Super Bowl. The same applies to voting and the electoral process.
Ronald: Their points aren’t necessarily valid, but definitely understandable. I’ll never personally encourage anyone to not vote. But there are many examples of questionable election results from the past, in particular the 2000 Presidential election with Florida and the “hanging chad” controversy that eventually gave Dubya the White House. It becomes more difficult to argue against those that have suspicions about the voting process. Couple that with what we currently have going on with the wave of potential voter suppression/voter ID laws that seem to target the poor, the elderly, college students and people of color, and that suspicion grows. But the main beef I think artists like Lupe, Kendrick, Stic.Man and M1 have is with the electoral process as a whole. With the Electoral College, the media circus that surrounds Presidential elections and the general ideal that government, corporate America and the mainstream media all work together and under the cover of darkness, there may be at least some justification towards the cynicism that these and other artists have expressed.
“I think it’s important that Hip Hop not understate its role. I’ve always viewed Hip Hop, because it was organized for young people by young people as an alternative to violence, as more than music but actually the extension of civil rights. Because of that, Hip Hop has brought, for 35 years, people black, white, Asian, Latin together under the muse of music. And it has grown a generation of people who are so accustomed to being around one another that slowly certain myths [about one another] began to fall. So I think Hip Hop has a significant slice [of credit for Obamas victory] because Hip Hop exposed us to one another before politics did. Hip Hop has done wonders in terms of breaking down the false walls of racial differences in this country. It’s brought us in big part to this point. Thank God for the art form of Hip Hop.” –Killer Mike, exclusive HipHopDX interview.
DX: How much weight do celebrity endorsements—particularly those from Hip Hop artists—carry?
Ronald: The bigger question to ask here is should celebrity endorsements—particularly those from Hip Hop artists—carry so much weight in a presidential election? The reality is that celebrity endorsements of politicians have always held a lot of stock, because everyday people have a tendency to do what celebrities do. Voting is no exception. In terms of the 2008 election, there were so many artists, Hip Hop and otherwise, that came out in support of Barack Obama. And Hip Hop from all corners and all sub genres were in strong support, from will.i.am (with his remixed Obama speech music video featuring lots of famous faces) to Bun B, Jay-Z and Diddy. I won’t go as far as to say that Hip Hop won the election for Obama in 2008, but I definitely would say that when fans of Hip Hop music and culture saw an artist they could relate to in support of one of the major candidates, it may have swayed them to pull the lever for him.
But should this be the case? It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, these artists probably did drive more potential voters from the Hip Hop and post-Hip Hop generations to the polls and did a masterful job at doing so. But on the other, it also shows that such a major decision such as which candidate to hire for the highest office of the land can be influenced by the ideal of, “Well, if so-and-so can vote for Obama, I will too.” And that’s troubling.
Ultimately, all three participants agree that the amount of political discourse Hip Hop has generated this election cycle is both great for the state of politics as well as Hip Hop.
“I was on a panel with Lupe Fiasco, and he expressed his thoughts on the president and the election,” Baker explained. “We didn’t get to chop it up. But his opinion comes from an informed place. And Kendrick has backed off from his initial statements somewhat. I think all of the discussion is dope. I can respect them on a certain level. And when November 6, comes, I’m going to be casting my vote.”
With all due respect to Young Jeezy, more specific and narrowly tailored debate and less “My president is black / My Lambo is blue…” talk probably benefits everyone involved in the political process this time around. More information and a livelier cliamate for debate can never be a bad thing. When the votes are tallied on November 6, it will be interesting to see both fans and artists alike weigh in regardless of the results. If the last few elections have taught us anything, it is that we most likely won’t see any wholesale changes to the election process in the near future. That essentially leaves the two choices of participating in and trying to change an admittedly flawed system from the inside or abstaining from the process.
***This article has been revised to reflect the following correction***
Correction: October 19, 2012
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the four elections during which the electoral vote has not matched the popular vote.
Rob “Biko” Baker is the Executive Director of the League of Young Voters. You can follow him on Twitter at @bikobaker and learn more about the League of Young Voter’s efforts to educate and empower young voters at http://www.theleague.com/splash.
Ron Grant is a freelance writer originally from Detroit and currently residing in Orlando. He has contributed writings to BrooklynBodega.com, PNCRadio.fm and runs two independent music blogs. Follow him on Twitter @RonGreezy.