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Hip-Hop Fridays: Which Way Hip-Hop Vote? Three Perspectives From Hadji Williams, Bakari Kitwana, and Adisa Banjoko

The Hip-hop Voting Block? It's a rap!

By: Hadji Williams

Not to be a hater, but this whole “Rap The Vote/Choose or Lose” movement is weaker than Catwoman. I mean, how can hip-hop be a legitimate voting block or strategy for change when we can’t even stop simple things like rappers from glorifying drugs, misogyny and ignorance on wax?

Consider: Hip-hop is a $10 billion dollar a year, industry according to a 2004 Businessweek article. Secondly, 80% of hip-hop and R&B is purchased by whites and non-blacks, according to Billboard and other industry leaders. Also, over 90% of the radio stations, magazines, TV stations, retailers and distributors that disseminate hip-hop product (music, clothes, movies, etc.) are white-owned. In short, the endless parade of “niggers,” “bitches,” “strippers,” “pimps,” “hoes”, etc. is primarily the result of mostly white manufacturers and marketers catering to the prejudices and greed of an overwhelmingly white consumer base.

Given this paradigm, why should the hip-hop community, most of which sees Black life and Black culture as little more than product and entertainment take issues affecting the Black community seriously enough to vote for candidates that are committed to addressing them? To illustrate where I'm coming from, let’s examine hip-hop’s response to social ills in non-election years:

Where are all the White hip-hop fans decrying the mistreatment of Black women in hip-hop music and culture? Where are all the White hip-hop fans speaking out against our government's hypocritical foreign policy against countries of color (i.e. Haiti, Sudan, Jamaica , etc.)? When’s the last time mobs of White hip-hop fans rallied for the equality of Blacks in America ’s justice system? Where are all the White hip-hop fans flooding the streets to support affirmative-action or protest against gang violence? How many White hip-hop fans are speaking out against racial profiling or for better inner city schools? With AIDS ravaging Black and African communities, how many White hip-hop fans are calling for increased AIDS funding? Where are all the White hip-hoppers railing against the predominantly white corporations who've run urban culture into the ground in the name of profits and market share every single generation? I could play Jada and ask more questions but we already know the answers. ( And not to just blame whites and non blacks, because most of the black artists, consumers and execs involved seem just as bent on burying our community in the name of protecting this paradigm as well.)

I hate to say it, but the hip-hop community doesn’t have the unity or equality and equity of power within itself to be a legitimate voting block or a constructive political movement. If such unity, equity and equality existed you'd see that 80% White consumer group demanding better for the communities whose cultures and art forms they consistently co-opt and consume. If hip-hop were a legitimate voting block mainstream candidates and officials would do more than the random MTV appearance or Russell Simmons photo-op to make their presence felt. But they haven't. Neither the DNC nor the RNC takes hip-hop and by extension, minority voters seriously. If hip-hop were a legit movement, we'd be able to get some of these mostly mainstream corporations to do more for our minority communities than just sponsor concerts, basketaball events and talent shows. If hip-hop were a legit political movement, we’d at least be able to get some of the crap off of BET and off our radio waves. But we can’t because we’re just frontin’.

And what's worse is MTV, the Republicrats (Democrats and Republicans), along with the corporate powers-that-be already know this. The Democrats know that most blacks are going to vote for them no matter what while the Republicans know that most blacks will vote against them no matter what. So neither group really cares. I believe that they’re playing hip-hop and black folks for goodwill PR points and intentionally keeping all minorities divided and bamboozled while they cater to their base of people they really care about: White Liberals and White Moderates, both of whom make up over 60% of all active registered voters. Most of what they do is about making that group comfortable and happy.

In fact, Rap the Vote is potentially a repeat of similar scheme that has been used for generations to manipulate many older into believing that Democratic Party has always been the party of freedom and racial equality despite the fact that for generations, most Democrats supported slavery and Jim Crow and voted agains affirmative action, etc. In fact, after signing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law in 1964 and 1965, then president LBJ was quoted as saying "We (the Democrats) just lost the South for the next 100 years. (It's an open secret that most Southern Demorcats along with countless Northern Democrats actually became Republicans out of protest against racial equality and have been such ever since.)

But with all of that said, Black and Brown folks nationwide MUST VOTE this November. Personally, I don't even care who you vote for, just vote. I’m sick and tired of Black folks complaining about not being heard, yet sitting in silence while everyone else runs to the polls. Secondly, we must get educated about who and what we're voting for. One of the reasons we’re so easily manipulated by politicians, minority leaders and so-called allies is that we don’t make the effort to find out what these talking heads actually stand for and who’s actually pulling the strings behind the scenes.

And again, no matter what the HSAN, MTV, the DNC or RNC say, don’t believe that just because a bunch of 18-34 year olds in Orange County or Vermont or Michigan or in the suburbs like Outkast, Jay-Z, Ludacris or L’il Flip that come November they’ll vote for candidates and policies that’re about uplifting Black and Brown communities; because as they’ve proven time and time again for generation after generation, they’re going to lookout for themselves-- at our expense whenever necessary.

Look, coalitions and voting blocks are a beautiful thing. People building and moving towards common goals across color and ethnic lines is not only wonderful, but it’s necessary in order for America to grow. But don't get it twisted--- hip-hop is not a voting block. And more importantly, it's got a long, long, long way to go before it is unified enough and honest enough with itself to become one. If minorities feel compelled to be a part of a voting block or a coalition, let's pick one that's built on issues, solutions, common interests and common bonds, not radio hits and co-opted fashion trends.

Hadji Williams is the author of “Knock The Hustle: How to save your job and your life from Corporate America.” He can be reached at:


By Bakari Kitwana

When I say to hip-hop kids that perhaps we shouldn't vote for John
Kerry, the universal first response is raised eyebrows. Then come a
flurry of questions, mostly critical and heartfelt ones. These are
reactions I've come to be expect, especially from a left leaning
emerging voting bloc.

This election year, the emerging hip-hop voting bloc-the potential
group of young voters regardless of race, age, sex and class who
routinely make hip-hop artist go platinum almost overnight-has reared
it's head like no other. Many hip-hop voters even those well over 18
are coming to participate in the electoral process for the first time.
We've mostly remained out of the process but are now eager to flex
within it.

The hip-hop voting bloc may be America's only hope of saving our
democracy from what it's become, a playground for the wealthy and
corporate elites. But if we aren't careful, we'll be eaten alive by a
fine-tuned machine that welcomes us in the door, gracefully escorts us
to a seat, entertains us to the max, secures our vote and leaves us
scratching our head after November 4th, asking, what just happened?
Better still, what was our role in making it happen?

Which brings us back to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Senator Kerry seems like a nice guy. A decorated Vietnam War veteran,
something he wears on his sleeve, sometimes annoyingly so, but
understandable in an election year when the sitting president took the
easy way out. A Yale graduate; in the Senate for two decades; the
father of two daughters. You gotta love him.

On the personal political record tip, he now says he's for affirmative
action, although in 1992, in a lecture he gave at Yale he described it
as "reverse racism" and "divisive." On his voting record in Congress,
his Republican critics hit the nail right on the head: Kerry tends to
talk out of both sides of his neck. More troubling than his
doublespeak is Kerry's insider elite background. Of the 40
millionaires in the Senate, he's the richest, worth over $160 million.
This doesn't include his wife's family net worth, which is estimated
at nearly $1 billion. Wealth aside, Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry,
feminist advocate that she is, defected from the Republican Party to
become a Democratic just last year. This and more regarding Kerry, is
the stuff that makes you go, hmmm.

But when it comes to the hard decisions that will come after the
election-from administration appointments and to advancing policy
changes, it is no longer simply the Kerry show. As such, the
Democratic party's track record and it's corporate elite associations
are a better indication of what Kerry will do to help or hurt us
rather than Kerry himself.

So don't get caught up in how good Kerry (or his daughters) looks or
what he says he's going to do from jobs to affirmative action. Just
as any other president if elected he'll be beholden to a ton of
agendas. Somewhere in the process is a way of getting our issues on
the table. But we aren't there yet. More important it's what we do
between now and November as much as on November 4th that could
determine if we as a voting bloc will ever arrive.

In this election, just as it's been for the last several decades
Democrats are not offering the hip-hop generation anything to get
excited about. Even when the Democratic Party is speaking out on
issues that matter to hip-hop voting bloc, when it comes to outlining
solutions, they aren't willing to go far enough. As brilliant as
Barack Obama was during the recent Democratic National Convention, and
as inclusive as John Edwards tried to be, both did what they were
supposed to do. They were given a national platform to rouse our
emotions, but charged with the pretty transparent task of not
departing too far from the script.

In June the first ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention convened
in Newark, New Jersey. Delegates from around the country worked
diligently to create a national agenda of issues that matter to the
hip-hop voting bloc. In short, the agenda calls for universal
healthcare, living wage jobs, reparations, education reform, and an
end to mandatory minimum sentencing, among other critical human rights

Attempts to present the agenda at last month's Democratic National
Convention were at best lightly entertained, but ultimately ignored.
National Hip-Hop Political Agenda aside, not two minutes, not one
minute of Democratic National Convention airtime was given to the
hip-hop voting bloc' s issues. Contrast this to stem cell research, a
debate hardly in need of a public hearing.

This isn't to say that the Democratic Party doesn't pay lip service to
issues like higher paying jobs and education reform-both issues that
matter to hip-hop voters. However, not any of their proposals go the
distance that most hip-hop voters require to see substantive change in
our lives that we can measure on a daily basis.

For example Democrats propose raising the minimum wage to $7/hour.
They also call for a tax credit of $1000 to offset college tuition
costs. Any hip-hop generationer can attest to the fact that $7/ hour
is hardly a living wage and that a $1000 tax credit won't put a dent
in the college costs.

Our generation came of age victims of a deteriorating public education
system, working class jobs without benefits, rising college tuition
costs and ever increasing limits on financial aid. We also saw far
too many of our friends and relatives head off to prison after casting
their lot with the drug game, even as they knew the odds were stacked
against them: their motto was live a little rather than not at all.
Repairing at least some of the damage done to youth in the 80s and 90s
is part of the critical distance that Democrats should go for our

And the name of the game is politics, not the-Republicans-are-too-evil
so-we-can't-really play-the-game. Taking the position that the
Republican Party should be avoided like the plague allows us to fall
right into Democratic Party's trap; they don't have to work for our
vote because they already have it.

Likewise, we shouldn't allow the current anti-Bush mania to sidetrack
us. Being anti-Bush is not reason enough to vote for Kerry. Being
anti-Bush, as it's being played out, is an emotional response designed
to get us on someone else's bandwagon. At best, being anti-Bush is a
political sentiment, not a political perspective.

The anti-Bush crusade of course, has it's roots in the Democratic
Party. The anti-Bush movement ironically was spawned by campaign
finance reform, in the form of 527 non-profits. 527 groups have been
around for 4 years, but have now taken on a new importance. Mostly
these are Democrats who have found a creative way to keep in the game
all that lovely unlimited so-called soft money outlawed by the
BiPartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Essentially, the anti-Bush
527 committees are not just anti-Bush, but pro Kerry, even if it's
illegal for them to say so. At the end of the day, they are
Democratic party footsoldiers and these wannabe hip-hop voter
svengalis aren't seeking the hardcore change that the country needs,
which inspired our generation to delve into electoral politics in the
first place.

Neither should we buy into the tired argument that a vote for Nadar is
a wasted vote. Also, we shouldn't be duped by the reasoning that
somehow if you're anti-Bush and didn't vote for Gore in 2000, then
you're personally responsible for the Iraq War. Again an twisted
attempt to put hip-hop voters on the Kerry bandwagon.

An August 15, 2004 New York Times article about Ralph Nadar's campaign
("The Secret Shame of the Nader Booster,") quoted president of
Appleseed Recordings Jim Musselman, asking the rhetorical question,
"We get to choose from seven different types of Coca-Colas in the
supermarket, but we should only have two choices for president?" It's
an important question that gets to the heart of why we shouldn't vote
for John Kerry. Democrats aren't giving us any real alternative.
Kerry isn't the lesser of two evils, he's maybe the lesser of two
evils-maybe he won't do us as bad as Bush, but we don't know for sure.
If Kerry has such a wonderful America in store for us, why is it that
this Democratic presidential campaign is focused not on Kerry 's
merits but on Bush demerits instead?

It's time to put Democrats on notice that there are enough swing
voters willing to go at least a second if not third way, write in our
candidates or withhold our votes altogether. This is the only
leverage we have at this point as a voting bloc to get our issues on
the nation's agenda. At some point too this will require hip-hop
voters to get involved in the electoral process beyond simply voting.

First we must support the political work of organization's like
Citizens Change, The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, the Hip-Hop Civic
Engagement Project, the National Hip-Hop Political Assembly,
L.I.S.T.E.N. (Local Initiative Training & Education Network), The
Urban Think Tank Institute and The League of Pissed Off Voters.
Second we have to get involved in the various local hip-hop activist
efforts across the country working to mobilize voters and organize
youth at the local level-from the Ohio-based B.U.I.L.D. (Blacks
United in Search of Local Democracy) to the Denver-based Colorado
Hip-Hop Coalition. Finally, we must adhere to the adage "put your
money where your mouth is" and financially contribute to campaigns,
candidates and or organizations that advance our issues.

These efforts, along with a strategic use of our vote, is the only way
to get the issues that matter to the hip-hop voting bloc nationally
debated in the same way the prescription drug benefit and gay marriage
have captured the nation's attention. If we do this we can and will
see in our lifetime substantive change on issues that matter to us.
To settle for anything less is to certainly condemn our emerging
political movement to the history books of "what could have been" and
"if only." In the meantime, to vote for Kerry just because is

Bakari Kitwana is the author of The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks
and the Crisis is African American Culture, co-founder of The National
Hip-Hop Political Convention and an organizer of The National Hip-Hop
Political Assembly.


By: Adisa Banjoko

I was both shocked and amazed by Bakari Kitwana's piece about Hip Hop
NOT voting for Kerry entitled "Why We (Hip Hop) Shouldn't Vote For
John Kerry". I understand his frustrations with the Democratic party.
But to vote for Bush is political suicide. You don't believe me? Ask
the Arab/Muslim voters who liked Bush over Gore in 2000. They regret
that one BIG TIME right about now. But any African American could and
should have told them better.

Now Hip Hop is testing itself in the political arena and getting beat
down worse than Stevie Wonder fighting Tyson in his prime.

The Democratic Party has done SO LITTLE for all minorities. Who could
argue that? They have been phony for so long. They have coasted on
Civil Rights Era achievements for SO LONG it makes me sick. They owe
AMERICA so much more. No one will deny this. But the Republicans
make it their JOB to shut out and deny all minorities as a rule
(Condi, Powell and a few others are accept ions to this rule). But
lets be clear about that.

The truth of the matter is that who is in office, has NEVER been the
sole solution to our problems (African Americans, minorities in
general and Hip Hop cats specifically).

Regardless of who is in office. We need to making steps to create
business. We need to get our credit straight so that we can own homes
in the communities we live in. We need to be buying up clubs and
making safe havens for Hip Hop to exist in. We need to be owning
buildings so that we can have after school classes on b-boying,
MC'ing, parental counseling and money management. Neither Bush nor
Kerry can do that for you.

What president has ever "delivered" the people? None. The people
deliver themselves.

You see, Bakari Kitwana's article, is the REASON why Hip Hop is not
taken seriously as a political tool. It is the reason, O.G.
politicians laugh at us, or ignore us straight up. Because we flip
flop all day. We don't have our positions concrete. They
(politicians on BOTH sides) know this.

Is Hip Hop for abortion or against it? Does Hip Hop support gay
marriage or do we not want that? Does Hip Hop support reparations for
African Americans? Does the so-called "Hip Hop Nation" step in stride
WITH the African American community or is it apart from it
ideologically? So many questions and so few answers.

Welcome to the real world Hip Hoppers. We don't have the power we
think we do. WE don't have the strategies we need to win. We are
newbies to the political fight and this is our first reality check.
Hip Hop is not going to save the world- know this. All it can do is
give us a medium to present issues on. Hip Hop is a great political
tool because it facilitates global communication on social, spiritual
and political issues. But Hip Hop itself will never be the reason
anyone stays IN or is put OUT of the oval office. This art and
sub-culture is not single minded in it's nature and was never meant to

But don't take my word for it, get informed. Go see Michale Moore's
movies. Go get "Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 911" at . After that, if you feel like staying broke, if
you feel like dying Iraq is what you need right about now, if you want
Bush, Cheney and Haliburton to cash more checks with your blood- go
ahead and vote Bush. Or, if you want to stay here, and die broke,
again vote for Bush. Maybe, you can vote for some weak third party
goon like Nader (who is the reason Bush got in anyway- among others).

But no president will deliver you. Understand that you're gonna have
to man up, woman up, read up and live up to a higher understanding of
self and get a new political standard. While your working on that-
VOTE FOR JOHN KERRY WITHOUT FAIL. Vote like your life depends on it-
because it does.

Adisa Banjoko is a pioneer Hip Hip Hop journalist from the Bay Area
and author to the new book "Lyrical Swords Vol 1: Hip Hop and Politics
in the Mix" available now at

Friday, August 27, 2004

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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