Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Politics Became The New Hip Hop (The Ballot of a New Rap Language)

(reprinted from The Huffington Post: 15 October 2008)

by Barry Michael Cooper

The definition of Hip Hop has always been a political one: at the heart of democracy lies the aorta of free speech. Be it George Orwell, V.I. Lenin, Karl Marx, or Donald Oliver Soper shooting the gift (of gab) in London at Speaker's Corner of Hyde Park, or KRS-One and Chuck D voicing their opposition to Reaganomics and a Dickensian New York in the late '80s, or Jay-Z, Puff, and Kanye describing their Brave Rich World from Gulfstream-V windows 40,000 feet above Monaco in rhythmic iambic pentameter, Hip Hop is the vox of the common man speaking to power.

FDR was Hip Hop: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

MLK was Hip Hop: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

JFK was Hip Hop: "And so my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

RWR was Hip Hop: "The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill"....And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago."

Bill Clinton is Hip Hop, too, but George Walker Bush embodies the flatline of Gangsta Rap: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised...Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing." 

Barack Obama is the greatest MC of all time. The DNC's Master of Ceremony's skills of Moving the Crowd have never been more evident than on the night of August 28th, 2008 in Denver's Invesco Stadium. It was the night Barack Obama fulfilled Martin Luther King's dream, and accepted the Democratic National Party's nomination for President. 

I wonder what went through his mind before he took the stage that night. Was it Jigga, as Obama mentally scrolled through his list of detractors in the media and politics, who tried to clown him by deifying him?: "I never claimed to have wings on/I get my/by any means on/when there's a drought/get your umbrellas out/that's when I brainstorm."

Maybe it was Rakim in the earbuds of Obama's iPod: "I'm not a regular competitor/ first rhyme editor/ Melody arranger, poet, etcetera/ Extra events, the grand finale like bonus/I am the man they call the microphonist."

Or maybe it was just Barack Obama being Barack Obama on this most historic night, transforming rap into epos: "We cannot turn back. America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate. And so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix. And cities to rebuild, and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect, and so many lives to mend. America we cannot turn back. We cannot walk America, our destiny is inextricably linked."

I don't know if John McCain is Hip Hop. I don't know if he or the Republican Party understands that it is the culture of Hip Hop that has directly -- and indirectly -- fueled the youth movement behind Barack Obama. Many have made this connection between Obama and Hip Hop, including the great New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, to a young Baltimore, Md. journalist by the name of Timothy Cooper.

Even Robin Williams said on Letterman a few weeks ago:
Obama running is wonderful. It's-initially it was very interesting with people being kind of afraid of going, 'You know, he's a very eloquent black man'. And some folks in Conneticut going, 'Well, he's a tan Kennedy'. But...what was their fear, though? Are they afraid that this very eloquent man will be elected President, and all of a sudden he takes the oath of office and goes, 'Yo what's up?!! (Williams grabbing his crotch in the b-boy style) Yo-yo-yo! Yo gonna keep it real! I'ma bring it home right now, no more of that Urkel stuff! I wanna introduce some members of my cabinet: this is Lil' Ray-Ray, Skinny G, Colin Powell, because he's bad! Keepin' it real!
The Gen-Y'ers have truly made the connection between Barack Obama and Hip Hop. They are his advance team on Facebook, My Space, and Friendster, an army of Millennials that has assisted the Obama campaign in raising hundreds of millions of dollars online. For this new paradigm--young white kids (and Asian, Latino, African-American, and multi-racial kids, too)--the culture of Hip Hop allowed them to embrace a black man without fear, suspicion, or loathing. 

These same Gen-Y'ers will go to a Jay-Z concert and know all the words to "Regrets" or "Lost Ones." Michael Phelps motored Beijing's Olympic blue cube -- stoked by the fires of Lil' Wayne lyrics playing in his head -- en route to a record eight gold medals. These same Millennials are also educating their parents around the breakfast and dinner table, letting them know that the Baby Boomer version of the American Dream, the Woodstock, flower power, peace, love, and Haight-Ashbury, has grown up in Eminem's 8 Mile of Detroit, Snoop Dogg's Long Beach, and Common's South Side of Chicago. Their world may not be a ghetto, but the Millennials have broadbanded it into their very own 3-G global 'hood. Which, incidentally, is Obama's hood, too.

So I don't know if John McCain is Hip Hop. Last week, with McCain and Sarah Palin -- the Charly Baltimore of the G.O.P. -- and their operatives flashing the political gang signs to their conservative base ("Terrorist", "Ayers", "Who is the real Barack Obama"?), The Straight Talk Express derailed into lyrics of David Bowie's "Candidate": "I'll make you a deal, like any other candidate/we'll pretend we're walking home 'cause your future's at stake...I'm having so much fun with the poisonous people/ spreading rumours and lies and stories they made up."

John McCain may be more Rock and Roll than Hip Hop, which --along with R&B-- was the Hip Hop of the '60s and '70s. 

The raison d'etre of John McCain seems to trapped between a pair of Bowie bookends: The Man Who Fell To Earth who joins forces with The Man Who Sold The World. No matter how much distance this heroic fighter pilot and former POW tries to put between George W. Bush -- who is on an unswerving, abominable path towards presiding over the most calamitous administration in American history -- McCain cannot escape the connection nor the facts. Wall Street continues to collapse. The ranks of the unemployed swell to hundreds of thousands every month. The war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and an increasingly unstable Pakistan seem to have no end in sight. 

Those are the facts, and so is this: life as we know it in this country is slowly rotting away. And that's not Hip Hop. That's the discord of an apocalypse. And -- quite possibly -- as Sen. John S. McCain may find out at the end of the last and final debate with Barack Obama on Wednesday at Hofstra University, his campaign's swan song.

Read When Politics Became The New Hip Hop, along with my other essays and investigative reporting in my new anthology, "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," available exclusively on Kindle/Amazon. Amazon/Kindle has a free, downloadable app for all computers and mobile devices. Click here to go to the "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1:New Jack City Eats Its Young" Kindle store site.

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