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Why Us? Politics and the Hiphop Community
By Akil, "the hiphopscholar"

" The summer of 2004 will be remembered for many reasons.  Among those in the Hiphop community it will be remembered as the summer of a series of courtships between Hiphop and the political machine in the United States.  Prior to 2004 it wasn’t uncommon to see a few Hiphop and hip-pop artists show their political leanings with a spot in a rock the vote commercial, even if it was more so a request by the powers that be to reach the Hiphop demographic.

However this period prior to the upcoming U.S elections represents the first time Hiphoppas at large have been targeted as a significant block of voters. Many organizations are working to educate and create greater participation in the electoral process among hiphoppas all over the United States.  The National Hiphop Political Convention convened this past July in an effort to galvanize support for an agenda that represents the needs of the Hiphop population, the majority of which are still people of color.  The Hip-Hop Congress held its annual gathering in the spring and Russell Simmons' Hiphop Action Summit is continuing to solicit activists.  While many of these organizations, and many more such as the Temple of Hiphop(, The and to name a few are working on various levels and as many different agendas one question remains.  Why Us?

What is the great interest in Hiphop or those designated as the Hiphop generation?  Firstly and perhaps obviously is the fact the Hiphop generation is moving into the 25-35 age range.  Many who were born on the heels of the *civil rights era and prior to the recession 1980s are reaching an age range where influence and income are increasing.  A recent interview with Hiphop clothier pioneer Karl Kani suggest the Hiphop generation is growing up and so are their interests, tastes and understanding of politics.

This increased mobility for the first wave of hiphoppas doesn’t mean they lose their ties to Hiphop culture, but rather their depth and understanding of the world through hiphop socialization is taking new forms.  In fact many involved in politics on a state and local level are representatives of the hiphop generation ranging from Jesse Jackson Jr. to Ras Baraka son of famed poet Amiri Baraka.

Before proceeding it is important to note that the culture of Hiphop of the late 1970s to 1989, is markedly different than the rap industry and hip-pop culture of present day.  Hiphop culture for the earlier generation included groups like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan, BDP, Paris,  GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five, and a host of others as the norm in terms of rap artists.  These rap artists would influence the culture of Hiphop with their diversity of lyrics.  Some artists, such is the case with Public Enemy and X-Clan, had overtly political themes with the intention of educating their audience.

Other groups such as A Tribe Called Quest offered lyrics that were not necessarily heavy handed with a political message, however still delivered a progressive message in a unique stylized manner which defined the creative intelligence of Hiphop in this era.  Given this background many Hiphoppas of this generation developed a keen sense of politics and social awareness.

Fast forward to 2004, where the Rap industry dominates youth culture and many of the key artists are defining success in terms of material wealth.  The fact that the Rap industry is a multi-billion dollar business is not lost on the powers that be. Each party in the political process is recognizing there are votes to be had and to varying degrees working to secure them.

Contemporary hip-pop via the rap industry is virtually everywhere on every thing.  Films, TV, print advertisements and of course radio.  This industry has produced some of the youngest CEOs, of which many are people of color.  Although many younger hiphoppas identify with them, the  politics don't necessarily support grassroots hiphoppas. For example the flow of big name rappers creating and or investing in liquor companies, which target an already disproportionately hit target audience.  While many activist groups are taking advantage of the interest in hiphop by raising important issues such as education, the prison industrial complex, racial profiling, aids research and awareness, it is important not to forget lessons of the past.

Prior to the downfall of many progressive organizations of the 60s they too were courted by the larger political machine and many of the leaders instead of leading for social change created leading as an occupation.  Moreover as in the case of the Gary Political Convention in 1972 many of the activists had wonderful well intentioned programs that never left the ground.   The current state suggests one of two things; 1 Rap is profitable and uncritical consumers are easily lead in the wrong direction 2 This is the moment for Hiphop culture to have its next Renaissance.  Time will tell."
By Akil, the hiphopscholar @

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