When Hip Hop first started, it was a local movement of artistic expression and social commentary. Hip Hop artists and lovers challenged the status quo by scratching records, tagging buildings and defying gravity. Those who had been ignored and forgotten grabbed the microphone, hopped on (and sometimes off) stage and ushered in what would become a global, billion dollar industry. The debate over content has been an ongoing one, as has the debate on the role that hip hop artists and businessmen should or shout not have in addressing social ills.
When Hip Hop first started out in the early eighties, there was a generational divide between the youth who were consumed with the culture and their parents and grandparents who were still clinging to ballads and funk. Fast forward twenty years and those children who once crowded the playgrounds around boom boxes are now parents and grandparents. Some of the artists who were young back then, are now in their forties and fifties. Members of the “Hip Hop Generation” are now entrepreneurs and both blue and white collar professionals. We’re practicing law, administering surgery and teaching and researching. We’re making money, making babies and some of us are making trouble but one thing we are not doing on a large scale is making policy and many of us are not voting.
Many rappers have foundations and should be commended for the positive work they are doing through those foundations around the country. Throughout my career I’ve lended my name, my work and my money to countless foundations in order to help various causes but after the lights went out and the crowd disappeared, I wasn’t quite sure what would be done with my contribution. Despite living all around the world, I always manage return home to Chicago and it seems to get worse. People are unemployed, children are killing each other and there is an overall sense of doom and despair. My neighborhood which is located in Chicago’s 20th Ward has 30,000 registered voters and a little over 7,000 came out to vote in the last aldermanic election. That means about 23,000 people are not engaged and because of that our community is often ignored and not taken seriously.
All politics is local and if we are to improve our social and economic ills, we have to return to the “village” concept. While it may be a foreign concept to many, my grandmother speaks about a day when neighbors were familiar with each other, people supported businesses within their local communities and people came together to solve problems rather than working alone; isolated. There is no shortage of social welfare programs. There is no shortage of people who are disappointed and frustrated with their lives as they stand. But there is a shortage of rappers and high-profile people returning to their neighborhoods to help make them better. It is time for hip-hop to be used as a tool, rather than a weapon. When I walk the streets of my hood, MOST young men, when asked what they do with their free time or what they want to be when they grow up respond by saying either hoop or spit (basketball or rap).
When I announced my candidacy for Alderman of the 20th Ward on Thursday, October 22, from a small business, I did so because I know that hip hop has the power to transform and unify. We have the power to educate people, especially shorties on how to make their lives better. We have the power to build bridges between those who do not have money and those who do. We have the power to use our fearlessness and our strength to literally transform the hood – one block, one child, one family at a time.
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