Jay Z Stumpin' For Prez?:The Politics of Hip Hop
Just like a pimped out E F Hutton, when Shawn "Jay Z " Carter talks, people listen.
And I'm not just talking about the boyz in tha 'hood, I'm talking about the white collar boys in executive suites. With just one lyric, Jay-Z has the uncanny ability to change the direction of an entire entertainment industry. Shawn Carter is the urban personification of the Haratio Alger Story: street corner drug dealer becomes a successful entrepreneur by rappin' about being a street corner drug dealer. The stuff that urban legends are made of.
That is why I have mixed emotions about Jay Z stumpin' for presidential candidate, Barack Obama via free rap concerts.
Don't get me wrong. Anytime a Hip Hop artist raps about anything other than derrieres and drug deals, I'm automatically a fan. So, I ain't hatin' on "Jigga", as he is affectionately known by rap connoisseurs.
However, what bothers me most when rap stars become "political activists" are the contradictions and missed opportunities.
Lets face it. Politics is really one big orgy and if you flick on the lights and pull the sheets back on any political bed, a lot of strange bedfellows will go scrambling for the nearest exit. However, Hip Hop is somewhat different, as it is heavily marketed as the voice of urban youth and many black kids do look up to rappers as role models, for better or mostly worst.
This is not the first time that a rapper has endorsed a political candidate, rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 once kicked some funky rhymes in 1984 in support of Rev. Jesse Jackson's first presidential run. However, despite using the bleeped out "p" word (piss) on the rap classic, "The Message" their music was basically, family friendly. Also, few could argue about the political awareness of rappers of the late 80's and early 90's such as Public Enemy and Sister Souljah, as they were often under fire not only for their lyrics but their strong political stances. This is not so with today's multi-millionaire rap pundants..
Hence, Hip Hop's political hypocrisy.
Today's Hip Hop artists are business men and the only presidents that they are concerned about are the dead presidents that are on the face of dollar bills. To borrow from a sample from Jay Z's street classic "Dead Presidents , " I'm out for presidents that represent me..." Hip Hop is no longer the voice of inner city streets as it was a generation ago, it is now the voice of Wall Street and somehow tales of extravagant "ghetto fabulous living" go over real big with the marketing departments at multi national entertainment corporations. '
The lifestyles that Carter and some of the 21st century, commercially successful Hip Hop artists rap about are the lives that the economically privileged in the Hamptons live but the struggling youth in economically depressed neighborhoods give their lives trying to achieve. So I have to wonder who is out their promoting Obama-ism, the Jay Z who was just another black kid with big dreams from the hood 20 years ago or the multi millionaire business man, former CEO of Def Jam Records and part owner of the NJ Nets, Shawn Carter? We can't expect the members of the Hip Hop Millionaire Boys Club to have the same political and economic interests of the struggling masses still trapped in "the ghetto." It must be noted that many of the undergound, noncommercial/politically conscious Hip Hop artists are rollin' with the Green Party, this year, courtesy of the organizing efforts of Hip Hop activist and VP candidate, Rosa Clemente.
Also, the Jay Z's and Sean "Puff Daddy/Diddy" Combs of the world, two of the signers of the recent Obama endorsement letter, "Open Letter to Young America" have the ability to effect the lives of more black youth in one week than the Obama administration can do in four years. Suppose, Jay Z with his many CD releases over the last decade would have released one strictly "political" album dealing with social problems and solutions? What impact would that have had on the millions of Jay Z followers around the country. Suppose during the last decade he had used his standing room only concert appearances to politicize his millions of fans instead of giving them tales of crack deals and misogyny? I think it is safe to say that the political consciousness of black youth would have been very different than it is, today.
Hip Hop politicians remind me of the two little pigs who built their cribs out of cheap straw and sticks instead of spending the necessary time and effort to build a sturdy house made of brick. If they spent more time working on building a solid social and economic infrastructure instead of blingin' and poppin' bottles of champagne at the club, then they wouldn't have to worry about the big bad Republican wolf blowing their houses down every four years!
The 'hood doesn't need voter registration, tha hood needs political education. But until we, as a community, demand more political and social responsibility from artists that we support with our dollars, in and out of political season, to quote from the "Jigga Man," himself..
"Can't knock the hustle."
Paul Scott, "the Hip Hop TRUTH Minista," is a writer and activist in Durham NC. His blog is http://www.nowarningshotsfired.com/ To reach Scott contact (919) 451-8283 or firstname.lastname@example.org