It was Grand­mas­ter Flash and the Furi­ous Five who spoke it plainly in 1982’s The Mes­sage

It’s like a jungle some­times, it makes me won­der

How I keep from going under

It’s like a jungle some­times, it makes me won­der

How I keep from going under

Forty years later, Amer­ica is very much in a sim­il­ar space against the back­drop of so much chaos.

Lately there has been a coördin­ated assault on racial pro­gress with vot­ing rights being stripped, a lack of fed­er­al police reform after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, black his­tory being sup­pressed in Amer­ic­an edu­ca­tion, the legit­im­acy of an even­tu­al black female Supreme Court nom­in­ee being ques­tioned, affirm­at­ive action hanging in the bal­ance, and bomb threats being levied against His­tor­ic­ally Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­sit­ies (HBCUs).

Not to men­tion the ongo­ing stu­dent loan debt crisis and the long term threat of cli­mate change.

With so much going on and a grow­ing sense of dis­il­lu­sion­ment among voters that pro­gress is not being made, the upcom­ing 2022 midterm elec­tions in the US is expec­ted to not pro­duce the same level of enthu­si­asm or record turnout as the last Pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

But the Hip Hop Caucus, a non-par­tis­an civic organ­iz­a­tion that is ded­ic­ated to using hip hop cul­ture as a vehicle for social and polit­ic­al change has hit the ground run­ning try­ing to get people out to the polls come Novem­ber.

The organ­iz­a­tions focus is on young voters of all races, which many would con­sider to be the hip hop nation, on the cru­cial areas of social justice, health care, edu­ca­tion, hous­ing, the envir­on­ment, and crim­in­al justice to name a few.

Since its found­ing in 2004, the Hip Hop Caucus has partnered with some of the biggest names in the game such as Jay Z, P Diddy, Eve, MC Lyte, Q‑Tip, and Com­mon.

I had the chance to talk to Rev. Len­nox Year­wood Jr., the pres­id­ent and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus to get his thoughts on the upcom­ing elec­tion, the issues he is focused on, and how to get people to vote.

With a crit­ic­al elec­tion com­ing up, how is every­body in the Hip Hop Caucus feel­ing?

We feel excited about what we need to do. We have always had the pos­i­tion of being post-par­tis­an mean­ing that we nev­er got into this work from a stand­point of a polit­ic­al party and I think that is the nature of hip hop in gen­er­al. We got into it based upon the issues that affect our com­munity. So I think that helps a lot because then you don’t really go on that roller coast­er deal­ing with polit­ic­al or par­tis­an type ways. So I think we are excit­ing because our issues still are real. Issues around racial justice, crim­in­al justice, cli­mate justice, eco­nom­ic justice, and the stu­dent loan crisis. I think for us it is about how we make human­ity bet­ter and so I think we feel good about that. Now I’ll be real there are folks that are work­ing to hinder par­tic­u­larly poor, black, brown, and indi­gen­ous com­munit­ies. We know that we have work to do because they want to hinder those voices from speak­ing up. We under­stand that you either shape policy or policy shapes you and they want to use policy to shape our com­munit­ies. We know that we have to be strong and com­mu­nic­ate to the hip hop com­munity as much as we can to do what we need to do for justice.

What would your mes­sage be to those in the hip hop com­munity that may be reluct­ant or appre­hens­ive to go to the polls in Novem­ber?

 Hip hop was star­ted because of polit­ics. What happened in the Bronx that caused red­lining and being cut off from soci­ety was how hip hop got star­ted. Hip hop was our CNN and our mech­an­ism to change our con­di­tions. If we nev­er had hip hop, we nev­er would have used our voices. Who we are as a cul­ture, which makes us even more power­ful, is not just black it is black, white, brown, red, male, female, straight, gay and we have always spoken truth to power. We have always had folks who say one thing and do anoth­er but we have to con­tin­ue speak­ing truth to power and keep using our voices to let them know when some­thing is wrong. Let them know about red­lining, poverty, schools that have more police than lib­rar­i­ans, and when we have to use our voices. I think that is the essence of our cul­ture that has made us power­ful over the past 40 years and we should nev­er get away from being polit­ic­al.

Obvi­ously the Hip Hop Caucus is involved in a vari­ety of issues that are crit­ic­al, with this being an elec­tion year what is the caucus going to be doing and where are you going to be set­ting up shop?

 The first thing we are doing is we are ramp­ing up our web­site as a hub and the Respect My Vote Cam­paign is the most long­stand­ing vot­ing cam­paign in hip hop ever. That cam­paign star­ted in 2008 with TI, Key­shia Cole, and oth­er artists. So we will con­tin­ue to use that to edu­cate and inform com­munit­ies. The second thing is we will con­tin­ue to pro­tect the votes of those who are dis­en­fran­chised that are return­ing cit­izens/ex-felons and will do all that we can to pro­tect their right to vote. We know that when there are those from our com­munity engage with the com­munity it is bet­ter for the com­munity. When they are not isol­ated and they feel they are part of the decision mak­ing pro­cess, we know that cuts out a lot of viol­ence. It makes them bet­ter fath­ers, moth­ers, and cit­izens. The next thing we are going to be doing is to make sure that people under­stand what is hap­pen­ing on the fed­er­al, state, and loc­al level. So clearly there is a lot hap­pen­ing on the fed­er­al and we need to be up to speed on that and what is hap­pen­ing and not hap­pen­ing. So with regards to vot­ing rights, we want them to know how that impacts them. Then on the state level there those same issues and oth­er issues. So we want them to be as informed as pos­sible. We also know that there can be mis­in­form­a­tion even if it is unin­ten­tion­al. So when people are say­ing that they can’t vote in Alabama and folks here that in Geor­gia they are think­ing they can’t vote in Geor­gia. They can go to https://respectmyvote.com/ to know all their laws. Then finally policy. We know that policy is crit­ic­al and that issues regard­ing eco­nom­ics, cli­mate, crim­in­al justice, and racial justice are very import­ant to them.

You men­tioned the artists that you have worked with before, are you work­ing with new artists or dif­fer­ent OGs with­in the world of hip hop?

I think we are going to con­tin­ue to do that. As you know there is dif­fer­ent age groups with­in hip hop. We have artists who are in their six­ties and artists in their teens. That is a lot to cov­er even for me being in this work. I star­ted off doing this work­ing with Jay Z and Diddy and it has been inter­est­ing to see. When artists are inter­ested and they want to see change hap­pen, I am excited. I am excited where hip hop is going and I think this is a crit­ic­al time. The real­ity is our par­ents who fought for equal­ity in the 20th cen­tury and while are still fight­ing for equal­ity, we are fight­ing for exist­ence in the 21st cen­tury. I think that our cul­ture has to be there to fight that battle. We are going to exist as humans in the 21st cen­tury and our cul­ture is going to be needed to cre­ate that space for change.

Check out the Hip Hop Caucus at their web­site https://hiphopcaucus.org/

The Respect My Vote Cam­paign can be found at https://respectmyvote.com/


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Zachary Draves
I am a viol­ence pre­ven­tion edu­cat­or, act­iv­ist, journ­al­ist, aspir­ing film­maker, adjunct pro­fess­or of social justice and civic engage­ment at Domin­ic­an Uni­ver­sity in River Forest, Illinois. I am based in Chica­go, Illinois.

About Zachary Draves

Zachary Draves
I am a violence prevention educator, activist, journalist, aspiring filmmaker, adjunct professor of social justice and civic engagement at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. I am based in Chicago, Illinois.