Battle Rap

Sep 28, 2012

The deadline for voter registration for this year’s elections is Tuesday, October 9. Have you registered?

Regrettably, political and legal battles over voter identification laws compel me to ask, "Have you registered correctly?"

“One percent rapper” Nikki Minaj proclaimed that she intended to vote for Mitt Romney, but later a charged public discovered that darling Nikki hasn’t registered to vote. We’ll chalk that up as an oversight. However, several rappers have made it clear that they’re not voting.

Lupe Fiasco tweeted, “Let me heal from the wounds of 400 years of institutionalized agony and destruction first... then maybe I'll think about voting...” Rising hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar doesn’t believe voting is an option, “‘Cause what’s going on isn’t in our hands, it’s not even in the president’s hands, so it’s definitely not in yours.”

Both rappers encourage their listeners to self-govern. Lupe challenges his critics to put up their own money to solve the problems effecting the disenfranchised of America. Similarly, Kendrick tells his audience to focus on themselves and their families. I would love to introduce Lupe and Kendrick to Ron Paul.

Intense disillusionment with the government is creating a very myopic, bootstrapping ideology that invariably reaches the same limits as libertarianism. It’s endemic of the times that we have to remind Americans that government interventions created by the civil rights movement enabled once excluded groups to make millions from self expression. Rappers should be keenly aware of this.

Both Lupe and Kendrick rap to audiences that in many real ways have lost control of their lives. Urban black and Latino America can’t establish when the recession started or ended. Unemployment stays above twenty percent in the hood. Home ownership is unreachable. Murder and crime are normalized. Life expectancy differs by as much as twenty-five years.

We shouldn’t be surprised that many disaffected youth feel disillusioned by the electoral process. However, those in positions of power should never discount the most basic of political rights. Discouraging voting insidiously reduces one of the tools everyone has to improve our lives. In addition, it minimizes the collective efforts needed to make positive change. The healing that Lupe Fiasco seeks can be realized by empowering votes.

Entertainers hit their best notes when they work diligently on getting out the vote among young voters. Currently, high schools teach thousands of 18-year olds who are eligible voters. However, students who may have passed Civics often share the same perspectives as Lupe and Kendrick. These students will soon realize the higher stakes tests that occur out of school; chiefly, students must understand whom they should vote for and why.

I’m not surprised with the antigovernment sentiments of this generation of rappers. If their audiences were truly empowered, they would probably not buy their music or their brand of politics. New music is typically released on Tuesdays. But for Tuesday, October 9, it’s much more important to get registration cards filled out and submitted.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.