MUSICThe Three-Minute Challenge Hip Hop should reflect the historical significance of our shifting political landscape
BY KEVIN BRITTON
“Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we give glory to achievement, self-respect and hard work.” - Sen. Barack Obama, June 15, 2008 (Father’s Day)
Before I launch into my political Hip Hop tirade, I’ll set the stage: Most of today’s radio-friendly Rap singles run about three minutes in length. And according to a 2005 USA Today article, a billboard in New York City’s Times Square funded by an anti-war advocacy group projected the cost of the war in Iraq to be, at that time, about $177 million per day, which comes to about $7.4 million per hour or $122,820 per minute.
So even without adjust ing for inflation, during the three minutes that your local FM voice-tracked DJ spins Soulja Boy’s tall tales of “super soaking” young women, about $368,000 has been spent on a mili tary action which most of the country believes needs to come to a swift and decisive conclusion.
I believe those three super-soaked minutes of pre cious commercial airtime could be put to much better use, and I’m reasonably cer tain that the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States — the self-proclaimed “skinny Black kid with big ears and a funny name” — would agree.
So, if within the context of a highly contentious politi cal campaign all this rings of déją vu, you’re not alone. I’ve spent the better part of the last four years writing about Hip Hop’s untapped potential to serve as a conduit for social change and collective action. Back in the day, KRS-One and friends warned us about our impending “self destruction,” Paris condemned the “hate the hate made,” Brand Nubian encouraged us to stand “all for one” and Public Enemy assured us that brothers were “gonna work it out.” More recently, emcees/activists Common and Talib Kweli — both known for tackling politically-oriented topics — have dropped Sen.
Barack Obama’s name in their song lyrics, while a new single titled “Black President” finds Nas pondering the historical implica tions of the first African-American Commander in Chief.
Yet, as Obama’s meticulously executed e-mail and Web-based campaign has demonstrated, his success depends largely on the degree to which he can tap into America’s diverse and multi-faceted/multi-ethnic grass roots movements — in this case, the ever-changing and fickle Hip Hop demographic. Certainly, his populist approach fits neatly within the well-informed Hip Hop aesthetic of making music for the people and by the peo ple. A few days ago I spoke with my eldest nephew, an up and-coming MC on the local circuit, and announced that I was penning an open letter — a challenge if you will — to all MCs and DJs/producers to write and record a
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