Hip-Hop Artists Drawn to Barack Obama's Message


With Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton locked in a neck-and-neck race for the Democratic presidential nomination, members of the hip-hop community increasingly have sounded off for Obama in this historic presidential race.

"We are in the midst of a very important time in our history," Rapper Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest told AllHipHop.com. "The world is fixated on an American election for many obvious reasons."

Q-Tip cites stark economic factors and "a poorly managed and ill-conceived war" as areas of concern. He thinks the choice is simple: "Hip-hop continues to be a mighty voice for the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and poor. Sen. Obama offers the best opportunities for all of us who fit these descriptions."

As elsewhere, Obama electrified Delaware when he visited Wilmington on Feb. 3, drawing 15,000 people to Rodney Square. Many who would not normally vote are gravitating to Obama's hopeful message.

Talib Kweli, CEO of Blacksmith, is one.

"I haven't voted since Bill Clinton first ran for president. I was following the tradition that black Americans have had of voting for Democrats. ... Clinton seemed better than Bush Sr., but I did not like his policies in Sudan or the constant bombing of Iraq." Then there was the Lewinsky scandal. "I felt betrayed by the system, and I stopped voting."

But now he's endorsed Obama.

"I hear him speaking about poor people, the environment, things that I haven't heard from politicians who have electability. I remember when Obama spoke out against the war, early," Kweli recalls. "I think the time he spent as a civil rights attorney on Chicago's South Side gives him a unique perspective."

Trust is the major issue for Kweli. "My support for him is just that, support for someone speaking my language amidst an ocean of doubletalk."

Some are sitting by to see how the race plays out.

"I'm still waiting to see," says Bun B, of the legendary group UGK. "I'm really, really leaning that way [toward Obama]. I'm sitting back and seeing who's going to do what."

With the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. votes Tuesday, Obama surpassed Clinton in convention delegates, and his January fundraising surpassed hers, $32 million to $13.5 million.

If Obama should make it to the White House, he has said he's interested in utilizing rappers to educate youth with hip-hop.

"I've met with Jay-Z; I've met with Kanye. And I've talked to other artists about how potentially to bridge that gap. I think the potential for them to deliver a message of extraordinary power that gets people thinking [is strong]," the presidential hopeful told Jeff Johnson on the BET special "What's in It for Us?"

"I love the art of hip-hop," declared Obama, whose Face book.com page lists the Fugees as one of his favorite groups. "I enjoy some of the newer stuff. Honestly, I don't always love the message of hip-hop."

Artistic vision should be broader than simply reporting on the harsh realities of modern life, Obama said.

"Hip-hop is not just a mirror of what is, it should be a mirror of what can be."

He challenges the culture to rise above the fray: "Art can't just be a rearview mirror. It should have a headlight on there pointing to where we need to go."

Russell Simmons is still deciding who he will endorse.

"I have been struggling," the clearly conflicted hip-hop magnate told AllHipHop.com. "I've had Bill and Hillary Clinton's personal phone number for 10 years, mobile numbers. I met with Barack once."

"When I needed to fight the governor on prison reform, Hillary 'cut the commercial' and helped us bring those 100,000 people out and spoke ... and got into a [verbal] fight with the governor publicly," Simmons recalls about his 2004 battle against the Rockefeller Laws in New York.

"And then when I had to fight education cuts," Simmons continues, "Hillary Clinton got in, 'cut the commercial,' showed up at the rally and got into a fight with the mayor. So, she's got into a fight with the governor and major, city and state government with me."

Even so, he said, "I'd love to see a black president. I'd love my kids to see a black president."

He's not alone in his hesitation. On FOX News, 50 Cent said he is doubtful that Obama's candidacy is viable.

"I'm not sure if America is ready to have a black president," 50 Cent said. "They might kill him."

Snoop Dogg disagreed in an interview with Larry King.

"I think America is ready for a black president," Snoop said. "I remember when we had presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson. It was gimmick. It was like a joke, because nobody thought Jesse could win. Right now people feel like this man can really win."

Snoop and 50 may have to root from the sidelines, as convicted felons are ineligible to vote unless that right is restored by a judge.

Though analysts predict the next few weeks' contests should favor Obama, with such a slim margin he is going to need all the support he can rally.

Can hip-hop be the decisive factor in this election?

Rapper Q-Tip hopes so.

"Hip-hop culture was the product of the impoverished who found strength and solace in this music phenomenon, " he said. "It is a transformational art form born of neighborhoods where crime and drugs were on the rise and self-esteem was sinking. The education system was failing, and the odds were against us. But as a people, we persevered."

Q-Tip sees the parallel between his personal life experience in hip-hop and our current situation as Americans.

"I know about having true substance, new ideas and a desire for fundamental change like Sen. Obama," he said. "This is not an emotional decision, although I am moved by Obama's American story.

"'I am endorsing Barack Obama because I feel that we can benefit greatly from a leader that offers sound judgment and experience rooted in the lives of real people."


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