Policy of Rap: Does Hip Hop Influence Government?


By Jaylin Paschal

I spend quite a bit of time thinking and writing about the ways in which Hip Hop and politics interact and intersect. With pieces on protest music, cultural criticism and environmental catalysts on the genre, I've reviewed the subject from several angles. (See list at the end of post.)

However, I've come to the realization that I never fairly examined the opposite side of this same coin:


Of course Hip Hop wields influence over political discourse. (If it didn't, I wouldn't have much of a blog.) But this question is, does any movement rooted in Hip Hop; any video, any lyric, any performance, any collaboration; actually affect policy, elections, judicial opinion or advocacy? 

What I've found in my research suggests that policy, not so much. (One notable political move was when the Hip Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) co-sponsored a rally to protest against $300m cut to the New York City school budget--the cut never happened.)

It's really moreso elections and advocacy that are heavily swayed by Hip Hop.

Hip Hop has had a huge part in increasing voter turnout among young adults. For example, Diddy has held "Vote or Die" movements which were parallel to MTV's get-out-the-vote initiatives. 

And of course, politics played a monumental role in the election and re-election of President Obama. will.i.am collaborated with various artists and celebrities on a music video sampling Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" speech, delivered after he lost the New Hampshire Primary to Senator Hillary Clinton, invigorating the voters to realize the dream. Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z host $40,000/ticket fundraiser to aid President Obama's reelection efforts. Hip Hop was also involved in the previous presidential election. Killer Mike's campaign for Sen. Bernie Sander's--a series of barbershop interviews--and Jay Z's concert for Sec. Hillary Clinton in Cleveland.

The HSAN was founded in an effort to harness the cultural relevance of Hip-Hop music to serve as a catalyst for education advocacy and other societal concerns fundamental to the empowerment of youth. And the First National Hip Hop Political Convention held in Newark, New Jersey with the central theme of “Voices, Unity, and Power,” a social justice platform to prepare a new generation of political hip-hop activists.

So while Hip Hop may not have direct policy influence, it does have a more "grassroots" impact on voters who elect policymakers. Some may argue this approach is more effective, as it politicizes and activates young people across the county. But a more cynical viewpoint is that votes don't matter until they translate into government.

Hip Hop has always been impactful, but imagine how much of a force it could be if it found away to get progressive ideals transformed to progressive politics. 

Jaylin PaschalComment