Barack Obama, Hip-Hop and Young Pissed Off Voters
"He's the genuine article. He truly cares about making a better life for not only his constituency and those who are vulnerable and poor, but for all Americans who struggle."
- Michael Eric Dyson commenting on Barack Obama
Like most Americans who happened to watch Senator Barack Obama's keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I was awestruck by the Obama's presence, clarity of thought and refreshingly non-partisan rhetoric. Even conservative pundits could not think of any disparaging remarks to hurl at the rising political star. In hip-hop parlance Obama is the "truth" (small "t"), which means he's the real deal, no joke, and not to be slept on. Just when we start to become disillusioned with our democratic process along comes a man, whose name rhymes with that of the most wanted terrorist in the world, to bring us hope. Spike Lee couldn't have conceived a more ironic twist.
In Vibe magazine's 12th Anniversary "Juice" Issue: The 100 Hottest People, Places and Things, the Chicago, Illinois based Senator ranks at "6" (fellow Chi-Town resident Kanye West came in at "4" and multi-talented Jamie Foxx is uno.) In the featured article "The Chosen One" by Jamie Katz, Obama expresses his affinity for another Chicago native, rap artist Common ("72" on Vibe's "Juice" list). The admiration seems to be mutual. "I love his intelligence, his charisma, his message, and his effort - man, this dude is what we need in the world," Common says. "He's one person who can move the crowd. Hip hop cats respect him."
In return, Obama describes Common as a "very conscious, thoughtful" artist. Though he apparently appreciates at least some forms of hip-hop expression, his preferred musical genres are classic r&b, neo-soul and jazz (think Stevie Wonder and Jill Scott; John Coltrane and Miles Davis). In the Vibe article he actually uses some jazz lingo to critique the rap music that does not impress him:
The underlying values are so square. It's about bling. It's entirely cynical, entirely materialistic... A lot of hip hop doesn't challenge the social order at all. It's not saying that your measure as a man is how you respect people and help people, but rather how you put them down.
Reading Obama's words is like listening to an elder schooling you on the error of your ways and then showing you a better alternative. Unlike Bill Cosby, another public figure who has spoken rather vehemently against young black urban culture, one senses that though Obama may be frustrated by the pathologies of some members of the community, he has not given up on them. Young people are just not going to buy into the whole rhetoric," he says further demonstrating his respect for these constituents and the need to break from politics as usual in order to reach them.
Enter the League of Pissed Off Voters. Sean "P. Diddy" Comb's "Vote or Die" project may have kicked the bucket since the 2004 Election, but League is still determined to leverage hip-hop culture as a voter-education and recruitment tool according to the Nation magazine article, "Hip-Hop Voting Bloc?" by Adam Howard. Yet efforts from Comb's Citizen Change voting-awareness campaign, League and the National Hip-Hop Political Convention among other similar groups collectively helped inspire the "4.6 million more 18- to 30-year-olds who voted in 2004 compared to 2000, as well as the young African-Americans who turned out in greater numbers than any other segment of the youth population."
So what are the issues that have young people pissed off? The National Hip-Hop Political Convention who registered more than 250,000 new young voters before the election will be focusing on the war in Iraq, education and criminal justice at their next gathering which will take place July 2006 in (guess where?) Chicago, the emerging mecca of progressive politics and socially conscious hip-hop. It is clear that these youth driven organizations tend to favor Democratic Party or other left leaning candidates. Unless this generation can establish values and ideals which transcend partisanship, I am afraid the divisive politics that we have been experiencing as of late will continue as the young people of today become the polarizing, entrenched politicians and ideologically biased voters of tomorrow.