There is one thing that Dr. Kendra A. King is certain about when it comes to the influence of hip-hop: it definitely packs a political punch.
An associate professor of politics at Oglethorpe University and director of its Rich Foundation Urban Program, King’s newest course, the Politics of Hip-Hop, is a rare, comprehensive look at the genre’s emerging power in politics. And King’s recently released book, African-American Politics, devotes a chapter to the topic.
“Clearly, hip-hop played a very determining role in the election of Barack Obama,” King said in a recent, exclusive interview with Politic365.
The symbol of a black man running for office resonated deeply within the hip-hop community and created “a mindset of: what can we do to make this happen?” she explained.
To fully understand how hip-hop could have made such an impact, one must understand that historically, hip-hop was a movement of social consciousness.
“It was a message of what was going on in brown and black communities,” King said.
“In the 70s and 80s in particular, you had a lot of blight, which unfortunately, we see re-visiting some areas today.”
Issues of neglect, poverty, racism, education, income and equality were not only real, they were mentioned in hit songs.
“One of the things I talk about in the class I teach on hip-hop is that if you deconstruct Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and ‘The Message,’ there are at least 25 inequalities they lay out,” King said. “Hip-hop has always served as that voice.”
Trends in hip-hop often reflected whether times were good or bad. As an example, King pointed to the eight years that former President Bill Clinton was in office.
“Clinton ushered us into eight years of economic surplus,” she said. “And that’s really, in some hip-hop, where you see the over-excessiveness. That’s where you start seeing money, power, respect.”
The challenge in today’s hip-hop is the parallel – and sometimes contradiction – of the socially conscious movement with the type of music that sells records. Sometimes the messages just don’t match up.
“Because a lot of things are selling that don’t really speak to a socially conscious message, you have a lot of artists who are giving (socially conscious messages), even though they may say something about seeing how low you can go,” King said. “And that dichotomy that is going on with hip-hop doesn’t negate the fact that it is a political and economic engine that is being respected now.”
Successful hip-hop generated campaigns such as P. Diddy’s Vote or Die movements are further examples of influence; King predicts that future elections will see even more artists courted by politicians to get involved and more break-out movements.
Politicians on both side of the two-party spectrum have sought the assistance and sometimes exploitation of hip-hop artists. During the 2008 presidential campaign rappers Daddy Yankee and Jay Z were out front and center politicking for the Republicans and Democrats, respectively.
“That’s why it’s the responsibility of the electorate to ask the question behind the question,” King said. “Meaning, why is (an artist) being courted? Is it because a commonality in terms of political interests” or the possibility that the artists’ fans will now be aligned with the political figure?
And King sees hip-hop’s influence going even further.
“I don’t think we should be surprised if by 2012, definitely by 2016, we see artists running for office on the local, state and national level,” King added. “I don’t think that’s a far stretch at all because of the drive to see something different and want to make a change.”
Still, hip-hop does have some developing to do if it’s going to return to the days of old, return to the days of elevating people’s thoughts, actions and lives, she cautioned. King doesn’t believe hip-hop is dead, but that it’s on life support.
“After the 2008 election, there’s no excuse for hip-hop not only to pull up its pants, but in some respects, to begin a rebirth and a re-emergence of consciousness,” she said. “Because that’s what’s needed in this generation.”