Buoyed by Barack Obama’s election as president, a group of hip-hop artists and other activists is taking to Capitol Hill — trying to harness the wave of support for Obama among young voters into an ongoing political force.
The group, the Hip Hop Caucus, has a nine-member Washington office — but its real reach comes from its ability to harness the power of hip-hop artists to put a famous face on issues and draw in their young, multicultural fans.
In the next few weeks, the caucus will see a bill it fashioned with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) be introduced — calling for funding for a one-day voter registration drive and lessons on the Constitution in high schools across the country.
To the group’s executive director, Lennox Yearwood Jr., the link between politics and hip-hop is a natural one — as a way to make politics more accessible to young voters, more like sports than study hall.
“If you have a flier that says something about the economic stimulus package, versus one that has ‘Hip-Hop Town Hall, find out how you get yours’ on it, what’s going to get a bigger draw?” Yearwood said. “That’s the power of hip-hop.”
And the power of Obama.
Rappers have campaigned for candidates before, but the hip-hop community hasn’t been able to sustain the interest or the momentum when the election was over. Obama’s election has led some in the industry to say it’s time for the political side of hip-hop to get more serious.
Obama got 68 percent of the youth vote, to Sen. John McCain’s 30 percent — with 2.2 million more voters between 18 and 29 turning up at the polls this election cycle compared with 2004.
Some artists — including Jay-Z and Nas — also appeared on the stump for Obama, and there was a hip-hop inaugural ball, a first. The message that January night was clear: Hip-hop has to grow up or be marginalized again.
“I wanted to use my voice to make sure people were engaged,” said rapper David Banner, who testified in 2007 House hearings on media representation of African-Americans. Banner, a BET hip-hop award winner, pitched in with the Hip Hop Caucus’ Respect My Vote campaign and will continue to be engaged, he said.
Enter Obama. Young Jeezy’s “My President’s Black” was in heavy rotation last summer, and many in the hip-hop generation take credit for Obama’s victory and count him as one of their own. One popular T-shirt has Obama sporting a Kangol cap, Gazelle glasses and a fat gold chain with the tag “Run DC.”