I'm still trying to pick up the pieces from a long night of following electoral votes and election coverage. During Complex's #FlexTheVote live election coverage from the YouTube Space in New York last night, Hot 97's own Peter Rosenberg (who helped anchor the live event with Complex News) dropped a point about the lack of hip-hop representation in pushing the vote that resonated with me.
While many felt similar, there were some that questioned the insight.
you really thought rappers saying something would sway privileged white america to change their minds? what does ja rule think? https://t.co/I8v4N0ESQv— Darian (@darianoneil) November 9, 2016
Their music is more than enough https://t.co/X19J54PpC9— bum (@LuisRevilla24) November 9, 2016
Many of them have a point. For what it's worth, J. Cole did perform at Jay Z's concert for Hillary Clinton in Cleveland last week, and artists like Cole and Kendrick typically let their lyrics speak louder than any campaigning they might do. Props to people like Pusha T, who has been super vocal in his support for Clinton and Tim Kaine, but we shouldn't have to call on our favorite artists to be the loudest voices during an election season.
Don't get me wrong, I grew up with politically-charged and socially-conscious hip-hop in my life. During the mid- to late 1980s, acts like Public Enemy were the black CNN telling me to fight the power. MCs like KRS-One wanted to "edutain" his listeners, dropping knowledge about history and how the world really works over the meatiest of boom bap beats. Artists like The Coup gave me the militant perspective that was lacking in some of the more popular rap circles.
Music has always been the voice of change, but we, the disenfranchised and disgusted people of America, need leadership outside of entertainment and pop culture.
Music has always been the voice of change, but we, the disenfranchised and disgusted people of America, need leadership outside of entertainment and pop culture. We need people who—while maybe not on the level of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X—are willing to put the movement on their back and stand in the face of the oppressor while speaking for the oppressed. It's sad that during a charged political climate like this, we resort to putting the onus on the entertainers we love to not only drop fire mixtapes, but to be the beacons of social change. It's a sad truth, but it's the reality—a platform and the ability to influence comes with a burden.
Should every conservative country artist making hit records be championing Trump? Does Jon Bon Jovi doing the #MannequinChallenge with Hillary Clinton make you want to go out (to the polls) in a blaze of glory? Why should hitting the pavement and getting voters to the polls be Kendrick Lamar's duty? Are you ready to get off track and have arguments about some of the unsavory lyrics in Kendrick's catalog, similar to how pundits tried to shade Hillary using Beyonce's "Formation" lyrics?
In their pursuit of creative expression, an artist's personal beliefs and ideas often come into play, but all artists do not want to be publicly involved with politics. We can hope and ask that the important ones are, but it's disheartening that the gap between politics and public interest is so large that we expect artists to be political leaders.
In their pursuit of creative expression, an artist's personal beliefs and ideas often come into play, but all artists do not want to be publicly involved with politics.
One sentiment I'm seeing on my Twitter timeline is that the future starts now; if we want to make shit better for us, we need to get the ball rolling immediately. We've seen the success of the Black Lives Matter movement, but one of the keys is that while there are known leaders within that system, it is more about the movement's ability to thrive without a specific figurehead. That's been great for what it is: a movement that brings these issues to the forefront.
Now more than ever, we need to mobilize the people. We need to bring the voices of those who lost last night to the forefront. Let's ensure that the rights of minorities, the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and all others are considered and protected. While we're doing that, let's call on artists like Common or Killer Mike to do what they do as artists in helping push the agenda and speak their minds, but let's make sure we're not depending on them to be the agenda.
Judging by the electoral votes last night, there's a lot of work that needs to be done in this country to get things right. It can be done, and will be done, but not because Kendrick Lamar spits a hot 16 about politics. His words should just reinforce the ideals and values that will shape our country's culture. It's ill that we look to voices like Kendrick and Cole for direction, but ultimately, we need leaders outside of the entertainment world to help guide this ship. Let's be the change that we want to see in the world.