This week, Hot97 and Fox News’ Lisa Evers sat down with a heavy hitting panel of cultural influencers to talk about Hip-Hop and Politics and if they culture has the power to elect the next president. Her panelists included Basil Smikle (Former Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party and Distinguished Lecturer of Politics and Public Policy at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute), Dupre “Doitall” Kelly (member of Hip-Hop group Lords of The Underground and former Newark City Councilman At Large candidate) and L. Londell McMillan (famed attorney, Chairman of The NorthStar Group and owner of The Source). The guests drop more than their share of science on the subject, but delivered the rules of politics right where the Hip-Hop community can better understand and organize.
Check out the various jewels that this episode of Street Soldiers imparted.
Jewel 1. Politics are more on the radar of Hip-Hop enthusiasts because the culture has matured and paying more attention. After celebrating 45 years in August 2018, many have not only grown up in the movement but have children, property and are invested in social issues. “[People] are more aware and concerned about health care, police issues and issues that deal with climate change. ” says McMillan. “It’s a natural progression. I intend to see more.”
Jewel 2. According to Smikle, in the most recent elections despite (or maybe because) of the current administration, there has been more voter turnout nationally than there has been in decades.
Jewel 3. The rap game and politics are the same. People are competitive and sometimes underhanded. Dupre “Doitall” Kelly knows best. After participating in the last election in Newark, he saw that some people who he thought would have his back… did not. Immediately, he likened his experience to rough and tumble rap game. When asked if this was an accurate comparison, McMillan replied “Absolutely, wherever there is control over the hearts and minds of the people and economics is valued, your going to find that kind of pull.”
Jewel 4. Like Hip-Hop, in politics you can find people from all walks of life. You can just as easily find a college grad (Ivy League or HBCU) in the same room with person who was formerly incarcerated.
Jewel 5. Unlike politics, there is a struggle for those who participate in Hip-Hop (artists, producers, executives) to focus on industry. In fact, many don’t understand the power behind the culture to other industries (such as that within politics). The industry of politics goes beyond social service and public policy and has access to billions of dollars. If the Hip-Hop community focused on that part of the political industry, they could leverage their influence to do more good for the community.
Jewel 6. Many have been discouraged because of the current political state our nation is in. They do not believe that their votes counted in the last national election. However, Smikle believes that while some have decided not to participate in the election process, many have. Those candidates who are running and who are poised to win are servicing and soliciting communities that have been dismissed in the pass. By abandoning traditional campaign strategies and going after new voters within the Hip-Hop and Latino communities, tables can turn.
Jewel 7. There is a voter file that not only says who you voted for, but who did not vote. This file is sold to candidates and they decide whether or not they need your vote.
Jewel 8. Hip-Hoppers are engaged in a myriad of ways, defying the misconception that we don’t care about political process. McMillan and Kelly actually did not agree on this point. While Kelly said that the community was not engaged, McMillan mentioned that their are multiple mindsets within the community. Some are not of age to vote (18 and under), some are professionals (and most certainly vote) and though some are rappers who may not vote, they can be used in other ways. “You may not use them to pull the lever, but you can use them to influence others to vote.”
Jewel 9. Rap artists and institutions have sought to impact voter registration and turn out using culture to motivate fans. Jay-Z told fans that they could not go to their concert unless they could producer their voter registration. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs started the “Vote or Die” campaign to stress the urgency of everyone’s individual vote. Both The Source and Hot97 have worked to provide information about issues that affect the community and encouraging fans to vote.
Jewel 10. When there is a low voter turnout, the people who have been in office never have to change and actually control the vote.
Jewel 11. African Americans and Women are influencing this year’s elections in remarkable ways. In four states, four African Americans are poised to be governors. There has only been three Black governors in the history of the country.
Jewel 12. In Florida and Virginia, thousands of people are becoming restored to the voting process. Regular people have engaged the system to move towards lifting laws that suppress the vote.
Jewel 13. According to Smikle, “Most of the policy that affects your day-to-day life is enacted on the state level, but most people don’t vote in state elections. Education, healthcare, taxes and prison laws are not federally mandated. When people only come out for the big elections (for presidents) then forfeit their right to make an impact on the system where they live.
Jewel 14. While social media helps with mobilizing people to the polls and introducing issues that are important to them, putting civics back in the classroom is the most helpful instrument that has mobilized youth culture towards civil engagement. When Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas started their anti-gun protest in response to the horrible shooting in their school, they were prompted by the teachings they received in civic’s class about their civil rights and responsibilities. They learned that young people were key in turning the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and that they could (standing on those shoulders), create their own generational shift.
Jewel 15. Hip-Hop has tremendous power. Power that is not organized and has no direction is fruitless. McMillan, Smikle and Kelly all agreed that engagement and mobilization will be key as Hip-Hop engages politics more. As artists, rappers like Kanye West, have to understand that not only does their words and platform have power, but it needs to be responsible and disciplined since their words are on record. There is also a need to own not just the economics of the industry, but the conduct of the culture. The most political thing that you can do is be responsible move in integrity. As Smikle submitted, “Dysfunction cannot be the norm.” And as always Lisa Evers added, “Use your mind, it your best weapon.”