D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Consumerism, Commercialism & Indifference ...

It is often assumed that Hip Hop’s only contribution to the broad spectrum of American culture is the widespread acceptance of consumerism, commercialism and indifference to anything not Hip Hop related. However, many on the outside of Hip Hop’s circle understand that the influential power possessed by the genre’s largest stars is an intangible gift. It isn’t any surprise that Russell Simmons , a marketing mogul that many herald as a genius, has tapped into the political pulse of young people. His many successful business ventures and music connections have allowed him to advance his newest platform: political activism . Over the last few years, he’s emerged as young America’s champion for change and has managed to get stars not known for their political views involved in efforts to encourage voter participation and eliminate voter apathy. Many have quietly questioned Mr. Simmons’ sincerity – I being one of those people. I do not have any contempt for Mr. Simmons’; I simply question the motives behind his stance and its overall focus. I want ideas on how to affect political change, not tips on how to wear my Phat Farm gear. I support any person’s efforts to provide change and even shameless promotion in light of it isn’t an issue. I just hope that his effort’s agendas aren’t inconspicuous. If I have to endure another television interview with the man displaying his wares – on a topic that has little to do with any of his many products – I’m going to have to look for another voice in the Hip Hop political scene.

The question remains is if it’s working. Certainly, a lot of major companies that sponsor voter registration events are pandering for those youthful eyeballs and the advertising dollars they help to generate. Throwing a few thousand dollars to a school or youth center in the “hood‿ here and there supposedly gives them some sort of credibility with the real people. These are the folks who are in the trenches suffering at the hands of the establishment – apparently this is where apathy breeds most often. With the upcoming Political Hip Hop Convention in New Jersey, there is hope that a new progressive movement can finally take hold and be regarded seriously. This approach, while ambitious, still has the usual set of suspects and a gaggle of people who never made themselves to be political beacons before. Pardon my seemingly negative stance – I truly do hope that these men and women get this right. I still have to question it if only to understand the true underlying motive.

Sean "Puffy" Combs , record label executive and current Broadway actor in the play “A Raisin In The Sun‿, is back in cahoots with cable network MTV to host a new politically-themed showed called “Project Change ‿. Not to blow anyone’s spot but didn’t Sean Combs attend a Simmons-sponsored political event a few years back encouraging young people to vote when he himself wasn’t even a registered voter? This is precisely the worry of many active and progressive thinkers when it comes to the huge task of getting young people to the polls. If the youth voter movement paid as much attention to the facts as they do the videos and music of these beloved icons, would these events they sponsor ever take hold? We can’t foresee the future but we can hold these so-called leaders accountable. One of the qualities of being a leader is to admit when you’re faulty. Let’s hope that won’t be an oft occurring event. We’ll give them a chance to prove us wrong.

For an interesting look into Hip Hop Activism, read Don Hazen’s piece over at Alternet.


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