Hip Hop Fridays: Hip-Hop's Next Big Stop: Capitol Hill by Davey D

Friday marks what would have been the 35th birthday of slain rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur, and this year is the 10th anniversary of his death.

With more than 40 million albums sold, the vast majority after his murder, Tupac remains a revered figure around the world. Unfortunately, the mainstream media highlight his thug persona to the point that many forget Tupac was the son of a Black Panther and a well-read, politically astute artist. In fact, shortly before his death, he had set in motion a plan to encourage fans to become engaged in politics.

Tupac did not believe one should just go to the polls, cast a vote and call it a day. He believed one's vote was a way to ``chin check'' politicians who hadn't done right by the community. Shortly before his murder, Tupac held a press conference with Snoop Dogg and MC Hammer to announce plans for politicizing the 6 million fans who had bought his last album. Snoop and Hammer intended to do the same with their fans.

Those plans did not arise in a vacuum. Earlier, Tupac had called for action against the Berkeley City Council, which had declared a moratorium on rap concerts in its city after a violent incident at the Berkeley Community Theater. Artists and fans showed up en masse at a council meeting to demand a reversal of the decision. A Digital Underground member warned that the group already had made history by getting more than 2 million people to do the Humpty Dance and that it would be a shame if it had to make history again by urging fans to vote the council out of office.

The moratorium was lifted, and as a result of that incident, some Berkeley law students formed one of hip-hop's first political-action groups, GRIP, the Group for Rap Industry Protection. It put together a well-thought-out paper on security at hip-hop concerts, which was instrumental in getting a similar concert ban lifted at Oakland's Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.

Now members of the hip-hop community can honor Tupac's political legacy by informing themselves and fighting an insidious congressional bill quietly being pushed by large telecommunications companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. It would put an end to the ``Net neutrality'' that allows Internet users to go seamlessly from one Web site to any other. With Net neutrality, broadband operators were prevented from charging to have content and services prioritized over their systems, and the little guy with something to say on a blog was able to compete with a giant news outlet, because he was just as accessible.

Last week, a big blow to that concept was delivered with a 321-101 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives for the disingenuously named Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act. To make matters worse, the House voted 269-152 to kill the Markey Amendment, which would have kept Net neutrality intact.

What does all this have to do with hip-hop? Over the past few years, hundreds of independent recording artists who couldn't break into commercial radio's homogenized playlists used the Internet to reach an audience. They did quite well for themselves, moving product and merchandise and launching tours on the Internet. That all could change if Net neutrality goes away.

And why did the House vote overwhelming against it? For starters, telecommunications companies have been spending close to $1 million a day to lobby Congress, making a complex issue seem even more complicated. The Net neutrality rallying cry was ``Save the Internet.'' The telecommunications companies used the slogan ``Hands off the Internet,'' meaning they don't want government regulation. Both camps have been calling for a ``free'' Internet.

For more on this issue, check out my ``Open Letter to Hip-Hop'' at www.mercurynews.com/entertainment; and ``Save the Internet'' at www.savetheinternet.com/.

I will return to this topic in my next column, June 29.

This article was published by The Mercury News

Davey D

Friday, June 16, 2006