The Weekly Hip-Hop Word:

Will Rap Artists Run For Political Office in '96?

written by Dave 'Davey D' Cook
The other day I had an interesting conversation with my man Boots. For those who don't know, he's the lead rapper for the Oakland based group The Coup. We got into this deep discussion about him ru nning for Oakland City Council. At first I began joking around, but then became serious. I explained to Boots, I felt that if he ran for a council seat in Oakland, not only would he make history, but he could conceivably win and have a positive impact.
You see, Boots is one of these political/messenger type rappers who has positioned himself in a unique way. He has mad respect from folks in the hood. He has not been viewed as someone who is preachy or too sophisticated that he goes over people's he ads. At the same time, the messages and concepts he has put in his rap songs do not come from empty rhetoric or a bunch of sloganisms. Boots is serious about what he says. He's well read and he's been studying things from day one... More important ly he's an activist.
Back in the days...'88-'89...Boots along with other like minded Bay Area activist formed the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective. It seemed to be modeled after the political based theater groups and poetry houses of the 60s during the hey days of Bla ck militancy. The Mau Mau, would hold monthly concerts that would feature poetry readings, lectures and of course hip hop performances from some of the Bay Area's underground groups. This whole concept epitomized 'Edutainment', a word that KRS -One was just starting to banter about.
Prior to the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective, I recall Boots being one of those Berkeley activist who was down for the cause. When Tom Metzger and his boys from the White Resistance and the Arrayian Nation decided to hold a rally 50 miles outside the Bay Area. Boots was one of those folks who went up to site to protest. In fact he rolled up on one of Arrayian kids and cracked him in the face. I recall Boots coming down to my old KALX college radio show and him trying to grasp and ar ticulate some of political and social concepts that were connected to his going up to protest. It wasn't too long afterwards that I got turned onto his group the Coup.
Now I don't know a whole lot about Boots. He's someone I've always seen around and gotten to know a bit better over the years. 7 or 8 years to be exact. One thing I have noticed is that he's always seem to be at the functions where politi cal change was going down. This past year, a large number of Bay Area political groups were meeting to form strategies to combat the attacks on Affirmative Action... Boots was there sitting in and contributing to the planning meetings. A month later durin g the controversial Board Of Regents meeting where California Governor Pete Wilson and Reverend Jesse Jackson squared off, Boots was there. Most recently the former members of the Black Panther Party.. Elaine Brown and David Hilliard helped put together a youth forum entitled What Happened To Black Youth In The Absence Of The Black Panther Party? Boots was there helping to organize. By the way Brother J, former member of X-Clan showed up for that forum and attended some of the workshops..but that's another story.

I cite these examples because I understand that in politics one must have a base and trust from their constituents. Trust is a commodity often lacking in the political equation, but Boot's track record has clearly shown that he's paid some dues a nd earned some trust from a community that could really benefit from some radical changes in a more uplifting and positive direction. And so when I had this conversation with Boots, I realized that standing before me was an individual who not only had som e popularity because of his lps and videos, but he also had a rich political and social understanding of things happening in his hood. And of course most importantly as I mentioned before he appears to have the trust of the people.
It was with all that in mind that I emphatically tried to convince Boots to run for Oakland City Council. I explained that no rap artist has ever ran for elected office..not Chuck D..not KRS-One..not P aris... I told Boots, him running would be a story onto itself.. The conditions for him to run in Oakland were ripe... Oakland is a small enough town for him to garner enough support and for the word to spread and spread quickly. It's a town of ac tivist and hip hop lovers. I told Boots history would certainly be made if he ran for office. He unfortunately has really done his political homework and has come to the conclusion that his participating in the political arena would give people false hope . Boots basically sees politicians as puppets of big business interest and feels that eventually they are forced to compromise the trust of the communities that elected them to office.. In other words, Boots ain't running for office anytime soon. alth ough I earnestly think he should. Perhaps I was a bit over zealous, but the more I thought about it... The more I realized the time is now for someone in hip hop to parlay their popularity into political representation.

A rap artist running for office? How probably how many within the mainstream would view this concept.. But it is far from outlandish. White folks within the entertainment field have been doing this for years. Senator Bill Bradley ou t of New Jersey, made a name for himself playing basketball. Sonny Bono and Clint Eastwood went from television and on screen icons to Mayors of Palm Springs and Carmel. Clint still does an occasional movie here and there and Bono took it to the next level by getting himself elected to Congress. If you really wanna think about one of this lands most popular Presidents ..Ronald Regan went from movie actor to Governor to two term President of these United States.
While all this is happening, politicians are often seen feverishly seeking the endorsements of today's top icons. The political endorsements from folks like Jay Leno or Arnold Schwartznegger are considered worthy, yet you never hear abo ut the political endorsements of those within the hip hop generation. Who was Spike Lee voting for in the last election? What about John Singleton? What does KRS-One think about this intense race between Pat Buchannon and Bo b Dole. And will Bill Clinton approach KRS-One or someone like Speech or even Spearhead's Michael Franti during the big election this fall and ask him to rally up the troops?

This is not as far fetched as you may think. The KRS-Ones and Chuck D's of hip hop are no longer 20 year old kids trying to break into the business. They are now elder statesmen for hip hop who have amassed huge and loyal audiences. Why not try and t ake that audience and ignite the political arena. KRS-One should run for Mayor of NY. Chuck D should run for Mayor in Atlanta. Ice T or heck even Ice Cube should run for office in LA. Why not? Even if they don't win.. they could add some new factors i nto the political equation. They could bring to the forefront some issues a whole lot of folks have been ducking. And its not that Cube or KRS-One would be competing for the same votes as the politicians. They would be bring all those large numbers of pol itical inactive fans who've never voted to the polls...much the same way Jesse did in '84. Remember when Jesse was running he kicked that ass in many of the nations big cities. I'm certain some of our political rap stars can do the same.

So what are the possibilities of one of our big name rap stars running for office? According to Public Enemy's Hip Hop Activist and Media Assassin Harry Allen, we are years away from that happening. In a recent interview Allen stated that he f elt that rap artists weren't ready for the political arena primarily because they "Don't understand or see the value in doing so", he noted. He went on to add that there has been little or no encouragement from the hip hop audience for such politi cal minded artist to run.
When asked what he felt the reaction would be if a KRS-One threw his hat in the ring and tried to run for Mayor Of New York City, Allen asserted that he felt that for the most part KRS-One's bid would be mostly discounted by white voters and by a siz able number of Black candidates as well. He felt that KRS, wouldn't be afforded the opportunity to garner a substantial voting base.
When pressed, Allen went on to explain that KRS-One unfortunately would constantly be reminded that he is he never held an elected office and that he's nothing more then an entertainer. Allen pointed out in past elections such discrediting tags have been attached to Jesse Jackson. He was always being jammed up about his lack of elected political experience. On the flipside, this has become almost a non issue for current Republican hopeful Patrick Buchannon or even Clint Eastwood.

While Allen's points are to be well taken and may in many ways be a bit more realistic given today's current climate, I simply can not see how any visible outspoken rap artist could not impact an election if they decided to run for an office. Whi le the mainstream press would likely put forth a valiant effort to either ignore or discredit such political ambitions, I know that a hip hop artist running for office would still reach the masses, much the same way rap music itself has managed to not onl y reach but also impact the masses inspite of all the bad and discrediting press.
I can see a KRS-One holding political rallies in Harlem or the South Bronx and drawing huge crowds. I can hear a Chuck D during some radio interview espousing some uplifting an enlightening stuff and folks positively responding because now they could go out and vote and help get him to office where he could try and make some things happen. I can see a Boots awakening a sleeping Black community and Oakland and garnering a lot of folks just because people are tired of t he status quo. At the very least the issues of Youth as well as the sentiments of so many communities of color would have to be dealt with...because a rap artist running would make them top of mind. So who's gonna run.. Is it you?

written by Davey D c 1996
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