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Hip Hop Comes to Take Back America Conference

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By David Swanson

"Hip Hop Artists and Activists: Politically Empowering a Culture of Resistance" was the name of a panel at the Take Back America Conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Cherryl Aldave from National Hip Hop Political Convention MC'd.

Speakers included Billy Wimsatt from the League of Independent Voters in Chicago, D Labrie from Hip Hop Congress in the Bay Area, Jay Woodson from National Hip Hop Political Convention in Philadelphia, Dave D from HardKnock Radio in Oakland, J Period - a Hip Hop DJ from Brooklyn, DJ Chela - a Hip Hop artist from Brooklyn and North Carolina, Wise Intelligent - a Hip Hop artist with Intelligent Music, and GRIME - a Hip Hop artist and activist and student and MC.

GRIME: "Hip Hop really did save my life. There were songs that made me care about history and about people. Hip Hop is the reason that I'm not dead or in jail, which is where a lot of people are who came from the community I came from." GRIME said he became a student activist but wanted to reach more people and turned to Hip Hop. That's what a lot of us are doing.

Aldave asked: "What is a Hip Hop activist, and why is hip hop a better way to reach people than others?"

Woodson said hip hop it's just a medium that can be used to reach people, but it won't reach everybody. For some people, a church is the way to reach them. But for a lot of people from the hood, hip hop is the way to reach them.

But J Period said he's found that people all over the world can relate to hip hop. He called it a universal language. He also said that hip hop for years has taught people things, and people look to it for that.

Davey D said we should be clear to distinguish hip hop the business from hip hop. The most powerful hip hop artists like Public Enemy were censored from radio. Dancing was banned in subways and in football endzones. Graffiti was banned. These expressions that come out of people's hurt and pain and angst always get banned. MLK Jr said that if not for DJs there would have been no civil rights movement. You can replace "soul music" in what he said with "hip hop" and it sounds true today.

J Period said a mixed tape DJ doesn't have to answer to radio. It's an underground way to promote positive hip hop, and it reaches people, which is why major labels hire him to make mixed tapes for their artists.

D. Labrie said hip hop, like other music, can reach across age groups and interest groups.

Question #2: How Can hip hop activism get better at turning out the vote?

Wimsatt said: the people in this room - look around - these are the people. He pointed out leaders from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. We've had 14 electoral victories and 12 issue victories.

Davey D said that just because Chris Matthews and Democrats here in this room go on TV and say "Where's the Hip Hop vote?" That's a way to deflect from their own failures. The people who turned out are the hip hop generation. (It's unclear to me whether he means by that young people, because I've heard Davey D in the past denounce the idea that hip hop means young people.)

GRIME later spoke in terms of the youth vote, and Davey D agreed with him. But GRIME said people were turned out to vote but not educated on the issues. And Clinton locked up the most black and brown people and put through the biggest welfare cut, so electing a Democrat won't solve everything. What will people do in between the elections?

Wise Intelligent said that voting is a cooling pot for revolutionary acts. Black people in America did not receive the right to vote by voting. Before the vote, 86% of blacks in the US were born into married households. Let's stop examining the misbehavior of rappers who are victims of a system. Let's examine the system. Two companies own the voting machines. And we choose between Bush and Kerry, which is like choosing between Bush and Bush. Every American President goes with the format. I don't care who it is, Obama, Clinton, they will have to go with the program or they will be shot. We need a revolution to overthrow this government.

Matt Stoller asked what liberal bloggers can do. D Labrie said to spread the word of what we're doing. Check out Hip Hop Congress.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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