how 6 rappers are taking urgent political action
Some of hip-hop’s biggest stars — among them YG, Chance the Rapper, and Pusha T — are making final pushes to get out the vote in today's election.
As a musical movement and vibrant creative culture born out of socio-economic devastation and disenfranchisement in 1970s New York, hip-hop is intrinsically linked to American politics. Public Enemy took a powerfully anti-establishment stance in the late 80s with "Fight the Power," while A Tribe Called Quest memorably endorsed David Dinkins for NYC mayor in "Can I Kick It?" the third single from the group's 1990 debut album. And in 1992, Tupac spoke candidly to MTV about income inequality and the redistribution of wealth (two major tenets of Bernie Sanders's 2016 campaign). In that interview, the late rap icon even spoke prophetically about the advent of Donald Trump's greed gospel turned political platform.
Throughout this election cycle, more rappers than ever have taken action to make their voices heard on the street and in the voting booth. Here, we recap the rhymers fighting for a more active democracy and a brighter future.
YG: The California rapper's debut record, 2014's My Krazy Life, depicted a day-in-the life in Compton. The rapper's sophomore release, Still Brazy, contains similar club energy, but exhibits a much more sobering political bent. Its blockbuster track — "Fuck Donald Trump" — was released this summer, and has become something of a cathartic anthem for this impossibly frustrating election. Over the course of the election cycle, YG has butted up against government censorship (he had to turn all of Still Brazy's lyrical content over to the Secret Service), but has refused to back down. He performed with Beyoncé on the Formation tour, made a second "Fuck Donald Trump" featuring G-Eazy and Macklemore, and named his nation-wide tour after the song (as tourmate Kamaiyah recently told us, it's been attracting protestors). Today, he's handing out bagels to L.A. voters. In keeping with California's rap tradition, YG blends urgent sociopolitical action with laid-back g-funk beats — redefining the protest anthem for a new generation. "We gotta say something, cause if not, it's like we're out here standing for nothing, like we ain't got no morals," YG told i-D earlier this year about why he continues to fight. "That ain't what it is. That ain't me. So I decided to speak up."
— sophia. (@SooFeeYah) November 8, 2016
Chance the Rapper: After performing alongside Jay Z and Beyoncé at Hillary Clinton's recent rally in Cleveland, the 23-year-old Chicago rapper hosted a free Parade to the Polls concert in his home city's Grant Park. He then led a literal parade to the polls — thousands of the show's attendees followed Chance to an early voting site nearby. Chance might have voted for Hillary, but he and a certain fellow Chicagoan go way back. "Chance, I've known for years 'cause his dad was my state director when I was a senator in Illinois, so I first met Chance when he was 8 years old, and so we've been family for a while," Barack Obama recently said when he called into Sway in the Morning to discuss his favorite rappers. We're excited to see what progress Chance and his recently launched SocialWorks initiative continue to make.
— FL Memorial Univ. (@FLMemorialUniv) November 8, 2016
Gucci Mane: Yesterday, the Atlanta icon delivered some inspiring words in between his set at Florida Memorial University, South Florida's only historically black college. "You have an opportunity to make a big impact tomorrow. And not just any young people — young people in this room, young people of color, young people that come from neighborhoods surrounding this college," Gucci told students, encouraging them to consider issues of police brutality and mass incarceration when making their vote. It's a deeply personal issue for Gucci, who was released from prison earlier this year after serving three years for possession of firearms by a convicted felon. Felon voting rights are a complex and thorny issue, and Gucci has expressed that presently, he isn't able to vote. "I wish that I had my right to vote," he told the students and has been reinforcing on Twitter today. "We need to make a vote to stop all the police brutality. We need to make a vote to stop this mass incarceration."
Ty Dolla $ign: Speaking of mass incarceration, it is at the cornerstone of Ty Dolla $ign's newest election-themed project, Campaign. The record features club cuts like the song's title track (which just got a celebratory video) alongside more emotional songs like "No Justice," recorded with Ty's brother TC, who is presently serving a life sentence for a crime Ty believes he didn't commit. The California rapper, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and R&B crooner made a concerted push for mass incarceration and voter registration — joining the Schools Not Prisons tour in his home state, and headlining a Rock The Vote registration-focused concert at the Democratic National Convention. "Speaking about injustice — how we can be thrown away and forgotten about if we don't stand up for this shit... it's here at home for me," Ty told i-D over the summer. "There's been no justice for these situations, no convictions. But I believe by talking about it — by spreading these issues through music to my fans — we can put a stop to it. We see what's going on and I believe in us."
Vic Mensa: The Chicago rapper often makes bold sociopolitical calls to action through his genre-bending music. The Kanye protege teamed up with Halsey and Lil B for "Free Love," a necessary LGBT track released over the summer, following the Pulse massacre. His most recent project, There's Alot Going On, interfaces with the Flint water crisis and the brutal slaying of unarmed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Its standout track, "16 Shots," was recently given a powerfully arresting video, and Mensa dropped by Jimmy Kimmel last night to perform it. "Donald Trump is a racist, and if you don't vote, racism wins," he told Kimmel's crowd, after participating in a livestreamed panel discussion about voting on Friday.
Pusha T: The celebrated rapper and President of G.O.O.D Music has long been a Clinton supporter. Back in December, a short video surfaced in which Push explains why he's in Clinton's corner: chiefly, America's broken criminal justice system. He's forthright in explaining that Bill Clinton's tough crime stance in 1994 has been a major contributing factor to the nation's incarceration epidemic — "The length of time that so many of my friends have gotten, nonviolent first-time offenders for drugs, is ridiculous. So I have a super-personal connection to that [issue]" Pusha, himself a former dealer, recently told Vulture. But he believes because Clinton has made it such a prevalent issue, he will support her in the fight. He's been on the Clinton campaign trail with Hillary (and did extended stumping with fellow Virginian Tim Kaine), made a PSA about California's Proposition 64, and visited the White House to speak with Barack Obama about My Brother's Keeper — an ambitious youth initiative. Over his illustrious, near 20-year career, Push has been heralded as one of the most whip-smart lyricists of our time. But his words outside of the recording booth and off the concert stage have proven just as urgent and poignant.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen