Friday, March 27, 2009

Are GOP Politics and Hip Hop Sensibilities Compatible?

(Note: Every Friday, contributors will respond to a hot-button issue related to the intersection of hip hop, law and culture.)

Pamela D. Bridgewater:

"First off, the question is based on the false premise that the hip hop nation is closely associated with any mainstream political party, including the Democratic party. This last election was a phenomena, and we all know why. If the hip hop nation was a Democratic party we would have had a different result in 2004. And if the GOP had any idea as to how to draw in the hip hop kids – they would have done so in 2008! Now, to be sure, the hip hop nation, the Demoractic and Republican parties have a lot in common – like capitalism, hyper consumerism, anti-queer sentiment, anti-reproductive freedom, and the failure to adequately work toward eliminating the root causes of poverty and oppression. But, since many rappers grew up with a picture of either MLK or JFK (often both) on their nana’s walls, they are more familiar with, and thus lumped in, with the Dems. But in order to understand the schism between hip hop and mainstream political parties, one has to look back to 1995-97 and pick out two words: COP KILLER.

Like Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur, the hip hop nation will forever (forever ever forever ever!) be inconsistent with the mainstream political parties because of its fear and loathing of the police. And further, the GOP takes particular pride in hyping up the fear part of that relationship. Yet, members of both parties cringed when ICE T dropped Body Count in the Rodney King era and was forced to choose to pull it from the album. Since then we can track several of rap’s reconciliations. Yet, of all the contested relationships between rap and the larger society and within rap itself – the tumultuous relationship between rap’s artists (and their constituencies) and the police have never been reconciled. As long as ICE-T and others (except Warner Brothers) stand by the following lyrics:

Fuck the police, yeah!
Fuck the police, for darryl gates.
Fuck the police, for rodney king.
Fuck the police, for my dead homies.
Fuck the police, for your freedom.
Fuck the police, don’t be a pussy.
Fuck the police, have some muthafuckin courage.
Fuck the police, sing along.
Cop killer!
Cop killer!
Cop killer!
Cop killer!”

The major political parties’ pro police, pro enhanced crime enforcement, pro prisons message will always seem diametrically opposed to hip hop and rap and gangsta rap. Michael Steele and President Obama have their work cut out for them."

D. Aaron Lacy:

"The GOP and the hip hop movement will never be compatible. In many areas, the GOP’s stance is the complete opposite to what the hip hop generation believes in. If the GOP wants to reach out to the hip hop generation, it must change its fundamental beliefs that are the bedrock of the Republican Party. Any effort by the GOP to reach out to the hip hop generation must be more than mere dressing up of the same conservative message. If all the GOP does is use hip hop slang in an attempt to make it seem like it relates to the hip hop generation, it will do nothing more than alienate more of the voters that they seek to win. In addition, that attempt will more than likely alienate many of the voters they currently have.

Hip hop culture is more than just words. It’s an attitude and it’s a way of life. Recently, Michael Steele urged the GOP to acknowledge their mistakes and commented “Tell America: We know the past, we know we did wrong – my bad.” A Minnesota Congresswoman followed Steele by proclaiming “You be da man!” It’s this type of superficial banter that I speak of above. Behaving like this will do nothing but give late night talk show hosts things to make fun of the GOP. Watching Michael Steele act this way is like watching Steve Martin “act black” in the movie Bringing Down the House.

In order for the GOP to be compatible with the hip hop movement, it would have to remake itself completely to give the people what they really want (not slang). That is just not something that I see happening anytime soon, if ever."

Nick J. Sciullo:

"Hip-hop is not bi-partisan, but that does not mean that there is no room for conservative politics. Music should open up space where multiple actors can engage in the creative process. There are no bars to participation, save a modicum of talent. If we deny conservatives the ability to participate in hip-hop, then we force hip-hop to lose its focus. Does this mean that conservative hip-hop will shortly replace emo-rap as the newest fad? No. Hip-hop is still the domain of liberal activism, but as with any musical genre or culture, it should be open to new participants.

Hip-hop has traditionally been rebel music, but now the rebellion seems to have died down. How revolutionary is hip-hop today? Was Nas correct when he asserted that hip-hop was dead? To argue that hip-hop is not as liberal as it might wish to be is a persuasive argument. The politics of major corporations, White-record label ownership, and manipulative disc jockeys remind us that hip-hop is indeed a business and not a naïve liberal revolution. To claim, self-righteously, that hip-hop will exist forever or that hip-hop has no room to progress would be a horrible blow to hip-hop’s potential. Hip-hop must move forward. Artists must do new things, songs must sound different, recording machinery must be improved, and so on.

Michael Steele’s recent call for a union of hip-hop and conservativism rings hollow. It sounded desperate, with no context. Steele has not sufficiently explained how he plans to achieve this hip-hop makeover, nor does he give the impression that he has the tremendous knowledge of hip-hop needed to change Republican politics as usual. I don’t know how the Republican Party Remix of 2009 will go, but my guess is not well."

(Image courtesy of


  1. I totally agree with D. Aaron Lacy. Anything more than the superficial attempts of the GOP to connect to hip hop culture will not be conducive to inclusion of hip hop culture under the umbrella of the GOP and will appear laughable to most, and as Lacy states, will be nothing more than fodder for late night talk show hosts and SNL.

  2. Steele was recently touting this attempt at recruiting the "hip hop" crowd recently on CNN and proudly proclaimed there was a Michael Steele before there was a Barack Obama. While I do not believe this attempt will be successful, I do believe if there is any time to do it, now is the time.

    Hip hop music has evolved with time and not for the better. What was once a voice for change and a rallying cry for the youth and inner city struggles has now become a watered down genre lacking any real substance.

    When hip hop had real political power and a political voice, the likes of Chuck D, Ice-T, and NWA voiced a message that resounded with all listeners. Now, Ice Cube makes Disney movies and Ice-T plays a cop on television ... go figure.

    The result of this erosion is that any real artists that actually speak on relevant issues find themselves at the bottom of the "underground" hip hop with few listeners. Meanwhile, the likes of Soulja Boy and company rise on the charts with their latest gimmicky dance. So, when Nas states that hip hop is dead, it seems to be an accurate statement.

    This makes me believe that the hip hop audience is prime for the taking. After all, if the substance is gone from hip hop, what is really keeping this audience with the Democratic party? Clinging to perceptions can only last for so long so if the Republican party can produce a sound byte that caters to this dumbed down audience they will gladly lean with it, rock with it, right over to the right-wing.

    Talib Kweli acknowledged himself that prior to Obama becoming a credible candidate he didn't feel the need to get involved, thus, he stayed home in the 2004 election instead of attempting to make a difference. If one of our leading "conscious" emcees shows he has no real initiative in furthering the principles that are usually identified with hip hop music and Democrats, then the question has to be asked whether the relationship even exists anymore.

  3. fluharty, you make some very interesting observations. great post. i wonder, is the socially conscious hip hop really as "underground" or underappreciated as you say? my own sense is that talib kweli, common, mos def and immortal technique have large followings and can (and do) incluence many in the hip hop generation today. in addition, while jay z and lil wayne are not fully socially conscious, they do release music that can be categorized as influential and a critique of the status quo white privilege that is prevelant in the united states. is the hip hop generation as dumbed down as you say? i hope that it is not.

    that said, i do not listen to any hip hop that is not conscious on some level (at least not anymore). so, i may not be as plugged in as others on the hip hop that reaches the masses.


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