By Thomas Scott
Last Wednesday, May 2, activist, writer and political analyst Bakari Kitwana visited campus to give a speech on hip-hop music’s influences on activism and politics in the “age of Obama” at Old Chapel.
The event was sponsored by the Black Student Union. Kitwana touched on a number of subjects ranging from the origins of hip-hop, which he asserted grew out of political necessity during the late 1970s and early 1980s, to the modern implications of hip-hop music.
While remarking on the former, Kitwana noted the profound need for a platform for political expression in the wake of the prison “explosion” of the 1980s that affected mostly “non-violent drug offenders.” The growth in the number of prison inmates was one of the “very specific social and political changes” that had an effect on what Kitwana calls the “hip-hop generation,” who came of age during the 1980s.
He also claimed that due to globalization and the departure of manufacturing jobs from the United States, prisons became a lucrative method of monetary gain for states and localities at the expense of inmates.
He also spoke about Van Jones, the former Obama aide who was compelled to resign from his prominent position in the president’s administration due to allegations that he associated with known communists in the early 1990s.
Kitwana asserted that the Republican opposition was “attacking [Jones] for his politics and associating these politics with Barack Obama.”
Republicans took issue with Jones’ “position after 9/11” where his name appeared on a 911truth.org petition.
Kitwana continued, stating that “Jones, to me, is someone who grew up in the hip-hop generation.” He further said that Jones “has a political outlook that, to me, is not that radical.” Kitwana also posed the question of where to “draw the line as to how far to the left someone can be and still be considered a patriot and a good citizen.”
He also stressed the need for youth participation in the democratic process, dismissing comments made by rapper Lupe Fiasco last June that he doesn’t “get involved in politics” because it is “meaningless.”
Kitwana encouraged the audience to make their voices heard as they did in 2008, where two-thirds of people under the age of 30 voted for now-President Barack Obama.
Kitwana also spoke about New Orleans-based rapper Dee-1 and his notable 2010 single “Jay, 50 & Weezy,” which is a plea to popular contemporary rappers Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Lil Wayne to improve and elevate the subject matter of their music.
After the speech concluded, Kitwani answered several questions of attendees.
When asked if he believes if the commercialization of hip-hop has lessened its potential political impact, Kitwana replied “yes and no,” pointing out that though rappers such as Jay-Z may compose explicit content, they also bring attention to pertinent social and cultural issues in their music.