The Hip-Hop Response to the 2011 State of the Union Address

“We do big things.”President Barack Obama Hip-Hop music and culture was born out of the most destitute of conditions in the South Bronx of the 1970’s. It was a time that most of us cannot imagine, and that area resembled a bomb-stricken war zone. But it is out of that condition that Hip-Hop was born, […]

“We do big things.”President Barack Obama

Hip-Hop music and culture was born out of the most destitute of conditions in the South Bronx of the 1970’s. It was a time that most of us cannot imagine, and that area resembled a bomb-stricken war zone. But it is out of that condition that Hip-Hop was born, brick by brick. Not overnight, not without struggle, and definitely not without innovation. Legends like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa had no roadmap to where they were going, but they paved the way anyway.

Yesterday, the President addressed the nation during his second State of the Union address and he spoke on a myriad of topics ranging from jobs to the economy and even gays in the military. Hip-Hop got a shout out, too, if you caught it. Obama simply said, “We do big things.”

The Hip-Hop community’s response to Obama’s speech has been as wide-ranging as the personalities in America, from dismissive to inspired. For example, a friend of mine in Delaware said he watched a mystery movie instead of the President’s speech, because he didn’t want to hear more talk. Furthermore, he’s fighting to keep his job, and others around him have already been laid off from theirs. On the other side, others who are presently out of work, or who are out there grinding to get it, were left inspired by Obama’s words. I am one of the latter.

Yesterday, The League of Young Voters Education Fund and AllHipHop solidified a partnership to push youth and the Hip-Hop generation to get out and become more involved in the political and civic process. Starting now is imperative, because many of us naively assumed that a wave of wondrous change was going to come over the world after Barack Obama was elected. Over 2.4 million additional young people voted in 2008 than in the previous election, and analysts say the youth vote was a deciding factor in the election. It is time that African Americans, young people, and others who have historically been marginalized, deep-dive into the process. Or, we simply will not matter when policy is being crafted on Capitol Hill.

But it isn’t just about what’s going on in Washington.

Sustained change is rooted in community-based efforts and organization, which goes hand-in-hand with creating a real voter base that possesses real influence. This isn’t new. The Civil Rights Movement was built by mobilizing the masses, and staying patient and resolute, with the understanding that solutions don’t happen overnight. The movement is about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when there is no light. It is about being bold enough to take that step when you know the road is long and winding. Likewise, when Hip-Hop was created, the founders weren’t trying to make something new, they simply did it.

These days, other movements have used the Civil Rights model to attain what they want and allow their people to flourish. So, while voter intimidation and fraud have been apparent in recent elections and people may be more disenchanted, there is reason to push onward. We’ve seen mobilization work for others. But, voting is only one piece of this jigsaw puzzle. Individuals and companies that are vested in progress are going to have to invest in education, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and strengthening community, among other matters.

We all know that the economy is terrible. The job market is terrible. Violence is terrible. So, what happens now? There are some of us who are going to hold Washington accountable, and some will address that in our own neighborhoods and communities. One such person is Saigon. I have a tremendous respect for Saigon, because he’s not just an artist who raps about change, he lives it. I’ve co-founded a new movement called “City for Change,” and I, along with AHH editor Seandra Sims, took the New York rapper down to Baltimore to talk to “at-risk” high school teens. I saw change in the room as a number of them quietly talked to Sai about real life issues with selling drugs and doing right by their families. This kind of positivity in Hip-Hop is often swept under the rug. Sai’s new album title says it best – this is one of “the greatest stories never told.”

My own brother, Johnathan Creekmur, who is a teacher in New Jersey, represents the Hip-Hop generation to the fullest. Since he began his tour of duty in as an educator, he has taught in tough inner cities like Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey, even though he has always been wooed toward suburban schools. He chose to stay. He’s largely teaching African American kids and other minorities who have been dismissed as less than intelligent and lacking in potential. But, he hasn’t become discouraged by what people tell him about his kids. He knows better. The one-time “Teacher of the Year” has not once subscribed to what people think about us as a people, and his students’ success rate is proof. He’s more enthused by the challenge before him, because he has a genuine love for his students and is bent on chartering a school to further affect change. (And he makes neck-snapping beats.)

Kevin Powell, a man of tremendous integrity and resolve, didn’t win his bid for Congress last year during the mid-term elections. In my opinion, a lot of the reason he didn’t win was largely because older people came out and reelected the incumbent official who had been reelected 13-times. The very people who Kevin wanted to help didn’t even participate. But, Kevin has not once been discouraged from continuing his life’s work in the community. His writings can be seen on this very site.

These few examples prove that Hip-Hop has never been about sitting and waiting for anybody to do for us. “We do big things.” AllHipHop was started in a recession. When doors were closed to my business partner Greg Watkins and me, we didn’t stay in Delaware to die a slow death. We moved on to bigger things. When Hip-Hop was born, the pioneers could have easily fallen pray to the circumstances of the day, but they didn’t – and we all soared higher because of it.

The President’s speech didn’t make mention of the poor, but we have to address our needy, both physically and mentally. The American Dream will never be realized if we don’t give back, and we have seen fragile mental health become a huge issue in Hip-Hop. The shooting of Rep. Gabby Gifford and others in Tucson, AZ, was a tragedy, no doubt. Still, we have to remember that these sorts of tragic moments happen with alarming frequency in ‘hoods across America, and most of them don’t make the front page of the paper, much less a State of the Union address. We’ve got to address gun violence, mental health, and other root causes in America, if we want change that’s more than just a band-aid. Lastly, we’ve got to dump the apathy. That’s not Hip-Hop.

So, Hip-Hop, I say we have reasons to stay positive and encouraged. We’re a resilient group of people that historically makes nothing into something. We may not have the best of circumstances, but we’re innovators. We may not have old money, but we’ve got young money. Our voices may not be heard on Capitol Hill, but we can be heard on the hilltops of our local neighborhoods. Let’s get out here and grind it out for ourselves, our loved ones, our culture. Let’s make Hip-Hop the source of empowerment that is truly is, one community at a time.

The President’s right – “we do big things.” Nobody does it bigger than we do. But, we must remain vigilant about the small things to accomplish it.

Some video:Jesse Jackson speaks on the importance of voting and realizing the importance of preparing for the long run.

Chuck Creekmur and Biko Baker Talk About Getting Young People Out To Vote.

Rapper Saigon Gives To The Homeless

League of Young Voters Education


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