There’s a popular mantra that’s been floating around for some time now that “rap minus lies equals hip-hop.” Long before it became the brain shifting, branding mechanism it is today, hip-hop was the voice of the underdog: Black and Brown youth and young adults most affected by urban disinvestment who refused to shrivel up and die quietly. Be it for fun or to foster movements, these young people took what they had, which was oftentimes almost nothing, to communicate both their joy and pain on a microphone, over break-beats, in rooms, streets and back alleys filled with graffiti as art and break dancing as a battle-ready exercise.
Back then, the music was raw and the message was truth. Chuck D dubbed the spoken word version of hip-hop as “Black America’s CNN” because of its tendency to shine light on issues important to the ‘hood but ignored by popular media. Fast-forward 30 years and today we see hip-hop in the mainstream telling and selling everything but the truth. And though it’s a travesty of the highest order, every once in a while, you’ll hear remnants of what made hip-hop so relevant in the first place. Over a track that mimics the beat of your heart, you’ll hear a truth so infectious that it squeezes your brain into a conscious state that many never go back to sleep from.
A few years back, at the urging of Billy Wimsatt and during the founding days of Chicago Votes, I was lucky enough to work with friends to executive produce a get out the vote effort associated with the public’s response to Trayvon Martin’s killing. Nationally, it was called “Hoodie Vote.” In Chicago, it was “Vote for the Hood.” Producer Tony Baines provided the instrumental, while rappers GLC, Kidd Flyy, Hardknock, YdotGdot, Mikkey Halsted, Bruza Da General, Vic Spencer and K Valentine provided the rhymes that gave reason to why we should regularly hit the polls.
Just as hip-hop always does, these Chicago-bred MCs spit trill in a way that is needed now more than ever. Their messages still stand tall, with the actions needed in the “hood” existing in stark contrast to what we actually see happening on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that this song will motivate all within earshot to take action. Back in the day, we didn’t just refuse to die quietly … we refused to die. Why should today be any different? The public call is to get up, get out, vote for the ‘hood, and put actions behind your vote. Hold your elected officials accountable. Hold yourself accountable. Expect truth and service for the public good. And refuse to accept anything less.
Feb. 24, 2015, is a Chicago-wide call to action. Read up on the candidates. Talk to your friends about who best represents you and your community’s interests. Then go to the poll and vote for that candidate. Vote as if this is the movie Selma. Vote because it honors the blood, sweat and tears that were shed in order for you to be here. Vote for yourself. Vote for your neighbor(hood). Vote because the children that attend Chicago public schools need you to. Vote for the present and the future of Chicago.