Join us for the first annual Dolla Day featuring Ty Dolla $ign & Friends on September 25th!
Join us for the first annual Dolla Day featuring Ty Dolla $ign & Friends on September 25th!
On Thursday, August 4th, Vic Mensa and Joey Purp had The Roxy turnt all the way UP! Los Angeles was the second-to-last stop on their 11 city “Back With A Vengeance” tour. Vic Mensa has been making hip hop headlines in 2016 and there’s good reason why. He’s passionate about the music he releases, but more importantly, the messages in each song.
We had a great team of volunteers who walked up and down the line of fans registered to vote or, if they were already registered, pledge to vote this November. Our team stationed at the voter registration table inside The Roxy, were personally thanked by Vic Mensa. As he was prepping for sound check, he came over to the table, and the first thing he said was that he wished we were on all the tour dates with him. Encouraging people to use their voting power is important to Vic, and it resonated throughout the show. Vic made a call to action in the middle of the show, asking his fans to vote this Fall. It was a powerful, memorable moment.
As we met with fans, there was a young lady in particular named Stephanie who made me realize something important: I helped her register to vote for her first eligible election…. EVER! She was so excited to register with us. The fact that the Hip Hop Caucus is going to help her (and many others we have registered this year) participate in their first voting experience, makes it that much more worthwhile to do the work we do. Because of us, she will have a voice through her vote!
There was another young man who had voted earlier this year while living in Chicago, but hadn’t had the chance to re-register in California so he could vote here in November. Because of our presence at the show, he was able to see an awesome concert AND re-register to vote in the state of California! Double win.
And, then there was Devon who was so appreciative to see us at the concert getting people engaged in the importance of voting. She said she had been waiting to see something like this at a show because it’s so necessary, especially with the upcoming election, to get as many Americans as we can to commit to their civic responsibilities.
Vic’s set was energetic, filled with passion AND purpose. He performed “16 Shots” twice (a song about the murder of Laquan McDonald’s), “U Mad” (who features the infamous Mr. Kanye West), “Free Love” (a song in support of the LGBTQ community and honoring those killed in the mass shooting in Orlando), and his crowd-favorite single “New Bae”. He also performed the self-titled EP track “There’s A Lot Going On” (release in collaboration with Roc Nation and Respect My Vote!). Just before he performed “Shades Of Blue” ( a song about the tragedy in Flint, Michigan) he gave a special shoutout to the Hip Hop Caucus and the Respect My Vote! Campaign. He told the crowd about what a major key it is to get out and vote: “This is a power that you HAVE to use ‘cause right now, we’re at the middle of a crossroads. It’s like, one decision as a nation could really lead to the end of everything. So, choose wisely.”
Vic stands out to me as an artist in today’s social media-driven society because he truly cares about the important issues we are facing. That’s exactly why we, the Hip Hop Caucus, knew he would be the PERFECT spokesperson for this year’s Respect My Vote! campaign.
Keke Palmer was overjoyed at the chance to vote for the first time in 2012.
The Scream Queens star was psyched about the prospect of re-electing President Barack Obama, a leader she calls “a great man.” And she was “just so happy to see such a big change as a Black man being president.”
But Palmer, now 22, says she’s since realized that the excitement she felt in some ways overshadowed the bigger picture of voting in America.
“I didn’t really understand voting in its totality,” she said. “I didn’t understand Congress, I didn’t understand senators. We have to pay attention just as much to that as we do the presidential election, so that our president has an opportunity to get the kind of laws they want passed.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau information, 71% of citizens are registered to vote, but only 61% of citizens actually cast a ballot in the last presidential election. When it comes to midterm elections, the numbers are lower. Only 41.9% of American citizens turned out in 2014.
Changing that is something Palmer is passionate about. She’s the newest celebrity spokesperson for the Respect My Vote campaign, a non-partisan effort organized by Hip Hop Caucus to make voting more accessible and culturally established. The group primarily works with minority communities, people with criminal records, and students.
Palmer told Refinery29 that she became involved with the campaign because she wants more young people to be a part of the political process.
“My mom started telling me it was about Congress, and I said, ‘who votes for Congress?’ And she said, ‘we do.’
Keke Palmer, on realizing that voting is about more than who occupies the White House.”
“I care about my generation and anything that’s going to help us move forward positively,” she said. “It’s in our hands. When they said back in the day, ‘children are our future,’ we were the children they were speaking of. It’s our time now, and there’s really no doubt about it.”
Respect My Vote focuses largely on education and inequality. The campaign offers several pages of voter resources, including tools to help voters find their polling place, be prepared for local voting ID laws, and research their rights as students or former criminal offenders. There’s even a tab to help people start the voter registration process
The campaign is a good fit for Palmer, who says that education and inequality are two of the biggest issues for her in this election.
“Sometimes, knowledge in America is based off your source of income,” she said. “So if you have a low source of income, it’s almost like saying ‘You don’t deserve to have knowledge.’ But as long as there’s ignorance going on in the world, we’re all fucked.”
“When they said back in the day, ‘children are our future,’ we were the children they were speaking of. It’s our time now, and there’s really no doubt about it.”
Keke Palmer, Respect My Vote spokesperson”
Palmer credits her mom with sparking her interest in voting during a conversation about what it takes for ideas to become law.
“My mom started telling me it was about Congress, and I said, ‘Who votes for Congress?’ And she said, ‘We do.’ And I’m just like, ‘What? That’s crazy! Wow.’”
That’s when she realized that voting didn’t mean just turning out for the top of the ticket.
“Voting so often goes under the radar, as far as everything outside of the presidential election,” she said. “I want not just to make myself aware, but to help provide, with my platform, the knowledge that we need to make better decisions for our world moving forward.”
Palmer wants others to know that their voice matters — and that they should go to the polls to make sure they’re heard.
“You remember when you’re a kid, [people] say, ‘your vote counts; every vote counts’?” she said. “Every city, every state that you’re in, you can decide what’s going on.”
The Charlotte Observer: “Charlotte Personalities Push the Voting Message”
Darren “Tank” Sauls says it concerns him when he overhears people say “My vote doesn’t matter,” or – even worse – “I don’t vote.”
“It’s important that we’re aware of the issues, we do our own research … and use our own vote as our voice,” says Sauls, a 33-year-old Charlotte native and marketer.
On Sunday, he took part in a photo and video shoot that’s part of the Washington-based Hip Hop Caucus and its Respect My Vote! campaign, which holds events in different cities to encourage voter registration and influence youth and minority communities to get active in voting.
Charlotte events continue Thursday with a town hall at the Urban League of the Central Carolinas to raise awareness of the voting rights of ex-felons.
Sunday’s photo and video event is part of a social-media push to raise voter awareness. Participants posed for photos in campaign T-shirts designed in red, white, blue and black. Then they talked on video about voting in their first election, and national and local issues important to them.
It will all be touted under the hashtags #RespectMyVote and #ElectionRevolution, according to Brandi Williams, Hip Hop Caucus ambassador in Charlotte.
“It’s really talking about making a huge change, and how our generation can do that from the hip-hop perspective,” says Williams, 39.
Charlotte personalities slated to be involved include R&B singer and Garinger High graduate Sunshine Anderson; Charlotte-based rapper Mr. 704; Larry “No Limit Larry” Mims of WPEG-FM (“Power 98” 97.9); Olympia D of Old School 105.3; Davita Galloway of Dupp & Swat studio in NoDa; and caucus national ambassador Nakisa Glover.
Want to go?
The Hip Hop Caucus, R&B singer Sunshine Anderson and the John S. Leary Association of Black Attorneys will host a Respect My Vote! “What Are Your Rights?” town hall on Thursday. It runs 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Urban League of the Central Carolinas, 740 W. Fifth St. The free event includes Radio One, Exodus Foundation’s Madeline McClenney-Sadler and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Ella Scarborough. Attendees will learn about voter rights for persons previously incarcerated, voter ID updates, and discuss local and state judicial candidates in the upcoming election. For more information and to register: www.eventbrite.com/e/respect-my-vote-charlotte-townhall-and-voter-registration-tickets-27011646562
Also participating was Quinn Rodgers, pastor of GeneratiONE (say “Generation One”), a hip-hop church the native Charlottean founded in 2014. Rodgers, 32, says no one should sit out this election.
“For me it’s historical, when you realize the many people that put their lives on the line for us to vote,” Rodgers says. “It’s important for me to exercise my right to vote, and to be an example for those coming after me.”
Read Original Article on The Charlotte Observer By Celeste Smith
People.com: “KeKe Palmer is Excited by the Prospect of a Woman President: Our World is Changing”
Keke Palmer is getting political once more.
The star – who once played a fashion company vice president in Nickelodeon’s True Jackson, VP – is the new spokesperson of the Respect My Vote! campaign, PEOPLE can announce exclusively.
“With the election date coming around the corner and as a young adult, a lot of the things going on the world right now are really my responsibility just as much as they are the next guy’s,” the Scream Queens actress, 22, tells PEOPLE. “Being a public figure and someone in the industry, I want to be able to make my career about something other than just my work – helping get my generation, my peers, involved in learning how to govern themselves.”
Palmer has become more and more interested in her civic responsibility over the years, and she first exercised her right to vote for President Obama in the 2012 election, when she was 18. Seeing – and eventually using her vote to reelect – a black man in office was particularly important for the “I Don’t Belong to You” singer growing up.
“I think it shows our world is changing. It’s opening up people to new ideas,” she says. “I remember as a kid, I asked my dad if he could be the president. What I really meant was, ‘Can a black person be president?’ That happened – and not only was he a black man, but he was a great man and a great president to us and made a lot of amazing things happen.”
“It’s cool to see that we could have a woman as president,” she says. “People are open to something new. The fact that Hillary is a big candidate shows that, so I just love that we’re seeing that things are different.”
Still, Palmer says she hasn’t decided who she’ll be voting for yet. But she stresses the importance of getting to know what candidates for offices – from the White House and Congress to local leadership – stand for.
“I’m definitely more of a liberal, so I support anyone doing things or providing services for the community. I’m a person that believes there’s no way we can keep up this ‘every man for himself’ thing,” she says.
Continues Palmer: “It’s all about opportunity. You can’t tell me that every man for himself because they have the same opportunity. No! Everybody definitely has freedom of perspective and thought, but it’s not fair to say that opportunities are equal when we have kids growing up in areas where their school systems are teaching them ass-backwards. That kid already has a disadvantage under someone from a great area with a great school system that encourages them to believe in themselves.”
Similarly, the star is concerned with candidates’ position on arts education.
“I definitely think creative arts should be mandatory in schools. So many school systems don’t have the resources to allow the children to study music and study drama,” she says. “There’s so many things that are going on in communities with poverty that the kids need and deserve to be able to create – to find and discover their passion outside of the normal curriculum. Kids need to be encouraged individual thought.”
Respect My Vote! was launched by the non-partisan nonprofit Hip Hop Caucus, which aims to unite 14- to 40-year-olds in hip-hop culture to advocate for justice, equality and opportunity.
Palmer is excited to add her voice to the organization star-studded chorus, which includes everyone from Ciara and Keyshia Cole Run-DMC’s Darryl ”DMC” McDaniels and popular radio host Charlamagne Tha God.
“When people said, “The children are the future” all those years ago? They were talkin’ about us!” she says. “My generation? We have the power. And for so long, we’ve wanted to say something, and now we can.”
Read Original Article on People.com by Jeff Nelson
Chicago Defender: “Cover Story: Black Votes Matter”
For the last two weeks, Americans have been inundated with non-stop coverage of both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention consuming the television airwaves.
At the RNC, we witnessed a lack of diversity and message that continually rang throughout the convention — Make America Great or Make America Safe Again — whatever Trump could fill in to magnify the perception of nostalgic fear.
The following week, the DNC flipped the script with four days filled with speakers on behalf of various groups that Donald Trump has isolated during his campaign. Unlike the RNC, the Democrats had a sitting president attend and eloquently pitch to Americans why Hillary Clinton was the best person to succeed him.
When our president mentioned Trump’s name, he was greeted with boos from the audience, but in his cool and collective grace, he said, “Don’t boo, vote.”
In the 2008 presidential election, a large number of African-Americans came out to vote. There was an electricity in the air and the possibility that the first Black president could be sitting in the Oval Office.
But as the bells and whistles died down, we had a president who was saddled with cleaning up one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. This chokehold impacted our communities, sending thousands into foreclosure, high unemployment and rising student loan defaults.
In 2012, 66 of percent Black voters came out to vote, more than whites, 64.1 percent, during the Obama/Romney election, reflecting the significance of President Obama’s influence.
Many Illinois legislators and powerbrokers were on hand in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention.
Cook County Democratic State’s Attorney candidate Kim Foxx was in attendance at the DNC in Philadelphia and witnessed firsthand the impact of President Obama’s speech.
“The convention demonstrated to both parties how incredibly high the stakes are. This isn’t a matter of a time we can take for granted, what’s going to happen with the laws in our country with these movements that we see taking hold in communities?” she said. “On the presidential level, the next president has the ability to appoint four Supreme Court justices; that has a direct implication into people’s lives. When we talk about whether the Voting Rights Act and the ability to ensure that communities of color are not affected by oppressive voting laws.”
She said other laws such as women reproductive rights are at risk if the Republican nominee gets in the White House.
Illinois State Sen. Kwame Raoul (13th District) agrees on the extreme impact of the judicial system at the highest courts with the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia and possibly other justices retiring soon. The influence of appointing the next replacements could change or reverse landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade and the Voting Rights Bill.
Criminal Justice Reform
Most important, Sen. Raoul has pushed for criminal justice reform long before the national media and Republican conservatives jumped on the bandwagon. His role as part of the Illinois delegation as well as hosting a panel discussion during the DNC on criminal justice reform included a widow of a police officer who had been murdered, a former gang member who did intervention work whose son was murdered, and Kim Foxx — also a victim at a younger age.
Raoul says some of the statistics that he cited during his panel discussion at the DNC disproportionately affect the African-American community the most — significantly more than whites and Latinos.
“Conservatives have started talking about the need of criminal justice reform, and so many African-American families have been affected one way or another by a broken criminal justice system. Within this campaign and going forward, if Democrats and Hillary Clinton don’t deliver a clear message to the need of aggressive reforms on criminal justice, you can have a disaffected voting bloc among African-Americans,” he said.
The Illinois delegation leads in some of the concerns that translated to other urban cities across the country. It was clear that social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, HandsUp United and families of gun violence victims brought together a common voice in democracy.
City of Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers was among the DNC attendees and interacted with other public officials from other cities addressing similar concerns.
“The Chicago agenda has to be at the forefront of that national conversation and be the example,” said Summers.
In order to push the importance of getting out to the polls — he feels we must first start with showing party unity as between Clinton and Sanders supporters. He believes the Illinois delegation was more evident in bringing together their forces compared to other states.
In joining forces, he believes it opens up more dialogue to put a clear agenda on the table for the possible Clinton administration.
Summers said, “The need to come together and talk about what’s really happening in our communities, the lack of economic opportunity and the need to create that for Black people in this country and the result of what happens when we don’t have that. The legitimacy of the pain of mothers whose lost children in this process, the anger and disappointment in a number of people — we see that right here. It was prevalent throughout the convention and through every address.”
A great portion of motivating more voters to come out to the polls rely on younger people and first-time voters — many of whom were staunch Bernie Sanders supporters.
Founder and Executive Director for the Hip Hop Caucus-Rev. Lennox Yearwood
National organizations such as the Hip Hop Caucus was formed in 2004. It emerged from four organizations, including Hip Hop Music Mogul Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit.
Led by Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., the Hip Hop Caucus has taken a frontline role, leading the initiative of educating young voters on the legislative issues and policy decisions on the local, state and federal level.
The new campaign, “Respect My Vote,” includes a grassroots push to travel around the country and register millennials on familiar ground — music and lifestyle events.
Yearwood understands the power of the hip hop community and has brought on various artists to push the message of voting.
“We have to organize our community — the urban and the hip hop community. To show that we are engaged in the political process. There’s been a war on people of color trying to vote. We want to make the voting process as easy as possible.”
All Politics Are Local
Chicago native and five-time Grammy−award winning songwriter Malik Yusef is an ambassador for the Hip Hop Caucus and spokesperson for Respect My Voice. As opposed to some of his music colleagues who openly sup- port Clinton and the Democratic Party, Yusef is a Republican.
He admits he is not in agreement with some of Clinton’s priorities, but he does not support Trump’s process of igniting fear.
Five-time Grammy-award songwriter/producer Malik Yusef
“From a personal standpoint, I am miffed. I am a Republican and I’m not proud of what the party has turned into. It’s been in disarray for some time. Our nominee is someone I disagree with on just about every single issue that is available. I don’t know anything we agree with, only that America needs to change and run a better business,” said Yusef.
Yusef is performing and traveling with the High Road Tour, featuring Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, where he gets a chance to talk with young attendees about the importance of Respect My Voice. “All politics are local. There’s a person that decides what time your street gets plowed if you live in those areas, what time your street get cleaned, who does construction projects, who can film a movie on location and where — those are local politics that people miss because it’s not plastered on social media.”
Other organizations such as the Chicago Urban League conducted public town hall meetings and forums leading up to the primaries, bringing together candidates and policymakers on issues concerning the Black community. President and CEO Shari Runner of the Chicago Urban League says they will continue their voter registration push for the general election.
“We did voter registration at our picnic last week. We’re also going to work with the LINKS and we’re encouraging people to register before the deadline. To encourage them not just to register but to really know the issues and the candidates that they vote on in November,” she said.
Although there is a U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent, Mark Kirk and Democratic candidate Rep. Tammy Duckworth —Runner said neither candidate accepted an invitation during the primaries to speak at their candidate forums.
“I think people should feel that it’s just as important as the presidential seat. One of the things that need to happen is for Democrats to take back the Senate and the Congress. Mark Kirk’s seat is one of those seats at play.”
President Obama stated clearly the domino effect of local and state elections impacting the presidential race.
Foxx concurs, “The stakes are high. This is not an election where people can take for granted where it doesn’t matter who gets into office. It absolutely does. What I was struck by on a personal level was watching President Obama at the DNC talking about it’s not just the presidential election — we have to go all the way down the ballot.”
There are currently six U.S. Senate seats up for re-election in several states during the general election, including Illinois. Democratic party members are pulling out all stops to ensure Duckworth’s win but are battling critics of Duckworth’s no-show in the Black and Hispanic communities.
Senior policymakers such as Sen. Raoul don’t hold back on why no candidate should sleep on Black voters.
“African-Americans are known as one of the most loyal voting blocs among Democrats. You add to the mix the impact over the years, conservative Republicans think they can jump on board with their own hidden motivations. It’s incumbent among Democrats at the very highest level to show leadership on this and address our issues.”
With the current polls reflecting a small push for Clinton ahead of Trump by 5-8 points, it’s still too close to break open the champagne with millions of U.S. citizens not registered and those putting their civil liberties temporarily on the shelf.
Yusef believes there is a serious disconnect about voting among young adults. “The millennials have been let down by their previous generation. We can’t blame the youth — we have to blame the parents. They are now 18 ,19, 21 years old and a lot of them haven’t registered to vote because they don’t see any significance of voting,” he said.
He is changing that scope by working with young talent such as actress Keke Palmer and rising music star Vic Mensa. “He’s been incredible and a fast learner. Vic has taken to this like a fish to water because he wants to see change.”
Why Your Vote Matters
After recently attending a youth panel hosted by One Summer Chicago, Treasurer Summers said, “One of these kids asked the question, ‘Why does our vote matter?’ My answer was straightforward— if it didn’t matter, people wouldn’t have died for it. If it didn’t matter, people wouldn’t be trying to take it away from us, every chance they got. If it didn’t matter it wouldn’t be two billion dollars spent this fall trying to convince you for that vote,” he explains.
“The way that you vote impacts the funding of your school system, who your prosecutor is and whether they fairly represent you; who runs the police department and the ability to seek justice whether they’re a citizen or a member of the police force.”
With less than three months away from the general election, Rev. Yearwood along with other prominent organizations know there is still a great deal of work to be done.
“We have to show that demonstration without legislation leads to frustration. We have to connect the dots. It’s important to be in the streets, but it’s also important to be in the suites and have an impact on Capitol Hill and at the statehouse. The way you can do that is by creating your political power, and the first of that is through voting.”
Read Original Article on Chicago Defender By Senior Staff Writer Mary L. Datcher
Voice America’s Go Green Radio “The Hip Hop Caucus pushes for Clean Energy and Climate Justice”
Today we’ll be joined by Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. to discuss his work for climate justice and a new partnership with the 100 percent Campaign to support access to clean, affordable energy for all. Rev. Yearwood is known as one of the most influential people in Hip Hop political life. He works tirelessly to encourage the Hip Hop generation to utilize its political and social voice. A national leader and pacemaker within the green movement, Rev. Yearwood has been successfully bridging the gap between communities of color and environmental issue advocacy for the past four years. With a diverse set of celebrity allies, Rev Yearwood raises awareness and action in communities that are often overlooked by traditional environmental campaigns.
Listen To Original Episode on Voice America Hosted by Jill Buck
Rap Rehab: “Do You Want To See Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s The High Road Summer Tour?”
The Hip Hop Caucus ‘Respect My Vote!’ campaign is working in collaboration with The High Road Summer Tour featuring Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa to register and educate voters at each U.S. based tour stop
The Hip Hop Caucus ‘Respect My Vote!’ campaign is working in collaboration with The High Road Summer Tour featuring Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa to register and educate voters at each U.S. based tour stop (33 cities). In addition to registering voters, concert goers will be able to receive important voter law information by state and be able to discuss issues that matter to them in this election, including: Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Environmental justice, Economic Opportunity, and Cannabis Policy (decriminalization, legalization and economic opportunity).
Here’s a awesome opportunity for folks to volunteer! Please pass this on to your volunteer-serious Wiz and Snoop fans (aka hip hop fans), we need folks to understand we are there for nonpartisan voter registration and no other agendas. We are asking folks to commit to arriving at 4:30 (to train and receive instruction) and volunteering until 9pm when Wiz and Snoop get ready to take the stage at which time volunteers can go and enjoy the show.
If you have people who may want to volunteer, please share this link with them.
Pass along this link to those who may want to volunteer. (see list of cities below)
Respect My Vote! is a national non-partisan Hip Hop culture-based campaign that reaches young voters and communities of color throughout the U.S. The goal is to educate the disenfranchised on the importance of voter participation from the local and national levels with celebrity spokespeople, social media influencers, and community leaders.
SNOOP DOGG & WIZ KHALIFA: THE HIGH ROAD SUMMER TOUR
*Remaining dates, cities and venues below.
Saturday, July 30, 2016 Hartford, CT Xfinity Theatre
Sunday, July 31, 2016 Bristow, VA Jiffy Lube Live
Tuesday, August 02, 2016 Holmdel, NJ PNC Banks Arts Center
Friday, August 05, 2016 Camden, NJ BB&T Pavilion
Saturday, August 06, 2016 Mansfield, MA Xfinity Center
Sunday, August 07, 2016 Saratoga, NY Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Tuesday, August 09, 2016 Wantagh, NY Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
Wednesday, August 10, 2016 Burgettstown, PA First Niagara Pavilion
Thursday, August 11, 2016 Noblesville, IN Klipsch Music Center
Friday, August 12, 2016 Detroit, MI DTE Energy Music Theatre
Saturday, August 13, 2016 Syracuse, NY Lakeview Amphitheatre
Sunday, August 14, 2016 Cuyahoga Falls, OH Blossom Music Center
Tuesday, August 16, 2016 Tinley Park, IL Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Wednesday, August 17, 2016 Maryland Heights, MO Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Thursday, August 18, 2016 Bonner Springs, KS Providence Meidcal Center Amphitheatre
Friday, August 19, 2016 Dallas, TX Gexa Energy Center
Saturday, August 20, 2016 The Woodlands, TX Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Sunday, August 21, 2016 Austin, TX Austin360 Amphitheatre
Tuesday, August 23, 2016 Albuquerque, NM Isleta Amphitheatre
Wednesday, August 24, 2016 Phoenix, AZ Ak-Chin Pavilion
Thursday, August 25, 2016 Irvine, CA Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre
Saturday, August 27, 2016 San Diego, CA Sleep Train Amphitheatre
Sunday, August 28, 2016 Concord, CA Concord Pavilion
Thursday, September 1, 2016 Ridgefield, WA Sunlight Supply Amphitheater
Friday, September 2, 2016 Auburn, WA White River Amphitheatre
Fader: “How One Political Organization Is Working With Vic Mensa And Wiz Khalifa To Get Out The Vote”
In a time where political awareness is paramount, President and CEO of Hip-Hop Caucus , Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. uses the power of hip-hop to encourage voters ages 18-40, to stay engaged with the Respect My Vote campaign. In 2008, Respect My Vote registered 30,000 voters, got support from artists like Nelly, Keyshia Cole, and T.I. and 2 Chainz in 2012. “It’s important to use the culture because it becomes the voice of the people. Hip-hop is not foreign and doesn’t sound like a Sunday morning news talkshow,” Reverend Yearwood said.
This year, Respect My Vote is backed by Vic Mensa and Charlemagne Tha God and is currently on the “High Road” tour with Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg, and Jhene Aiko aiming to register voters across the nation. This year, in addition to their registration effort, the group is taking a special focus on shining a light on police violence. Reverend Yearwood, Wiz, and Snoop are facilitating conversations around what they call, “High Road Politics,” which intends to back legislation reform around the racial disproportions in the cannabis industry.
Over the phone, Reverend Yearwood talked to The FADER about hip-hop’s message for Donald Trump, why black people must vote this year, and the importance of staying engaged after a president is elected.
Where’s the difference among the young people in this 2016 presidential election season in comparison to the last two election seasons in 2008 and 2012?
People who are 40 years old or so or younger realize that the issue is no longer just about equality. Now they’re dealing with the issues of race that are clearly still out here coupled with the issue of existence and their politics are based upon if they’re going to live or not. Will they have a job? Can they pay a student loan? Can they get a house? Will they be killed because of the color of their skin? Can they get clean water? Is the water even clean at all? Is the air clean? Is there pollution?
While our politics have become more sophisticated, our institutions have not. There’s an institutional void and we’re dealing with some systemic, institutional disparities that are being created then you need institutions to help with that. For young people and our generation, you definitely see people getting more engaged politically. As far as in the music you see much more of an earth tone that artists are trying to connect with their music and that’s helpful.
How would you say the role of hip-hop specifically has shifted in engaging voters in this year’s presidential election?
This is actually the year when hip-hop has to stand up. I’ve been in working in hip-hop politics since Rock the Vote back in the 2000s and the hip-hop summits with Russell Simmons and Vote or Die and What’s your Choice were critical. Folks were easily motivated because President Obama was at the top of the ticket. Since his second term things have changed and the emergence of issues regarding prison reform, criminal justice, climate change and education, people have realized how vital reading up and down the ticket is. This is the year where we have to use our culture more than ever to get folks excited and explain why they have to be a part of the process. Doing policy is not easy but we have to be engaged in it because if we’re not policy will certainly shape us.
With President Obama people were excited to know that somebody like them, either young, hip or person of color was on the ballot at the top of the ticket. It was a little easier—no doubt that it definitely had some impact. From the killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, and Alton Sterling, things have changed where people have realized that we can’t legislate morality. In other words, we can’t make certain institutions like us, but we can definitely legislate behavior. People are seeing that demonstration was critical but now, demonstration without the legislation leads to frustration. So while people may not have the same kind of viewpoint of, “Let’s just vote for President Obama,” it’s personal now. They’re voting now because it’s about “my life” and putting policies where things can shape “my life” in the community.
There’s a frustration and a sentiment in the black community where some people are discouraged to vote and won’t go to the polls because there’s a sentiment that their vote doesn’t have any weight. What do you say to that mentality?
It’s ill advised and our community needs all the help that it can get. To give away our one measure of utilizing our voice, it absolutely crazy. I understand and listen, I’ve been around this for many, many years and I was a little shocked when I heard Diddy, we actually helped bring together the Vote or Die campaign, say that voting was a scam. We’d met up in Miami, we rapped a little bit in the Four Seasons and I heard his point. His point was like, “You know man there’s just so much money in politics.”
I was like, “I understand that. We have to fix campaign finance reform. We have to weed out big money in politics. But voting is not a scam. Voting is critical.”
It’s not just the top of the ticket or who you like. The list is endless with the folks we put in office who shape policy. Hip Hop caucus is not non-partisan, we’re post-partisan. We’re really beyond that party system because we want folk not to be who we endorse, but who endorses us. Not who we’re with but who’s with us.
What do you mean by “with us?”
People always ask, “Hip Hop Caucus, who are you going to endorse?” We’re like, “Well, we’re endorsing nobody!” More importantly it’s the candidate who endorses us. We take the position where we want to educate our communities about issues that affect us so they can look at the candidate, whether it’s local, state, or federal level, and they can pick the best candidate for them.
Artists are responding to Donald Trump but, we cannot miss the total aspect of the political process. While we’re saying ‘F Donald Trump,’ we cannot miss that there are people who are saying ‘F’ us because they are getting the voting rights.
In the past two elections, a lot of hip-hop artists have backed President Barack Obama. Now, they’re not really in strong support of either of the candidates but they’ve definitely expressed being anti-Donald Trump. Do you think those messages are pushing people against him or pushing them to find out more about Hilary Clinton?
It’s clear that Trump is a very unique candidate and people are responding to that. He’s said some things that are very much insulting. Now that he’s the nominee for the Republican party, it becomes a whole different dynamic. It’s like, “Wow. Does your whole party believe that?”
We have to deal with the fact that we’re dealing with the voter ID laws in places where they know this would hamper students in communities, senior citizens, the disabled or sometimes people who are poor and just can’t get an ID. It just becomes like a poll tax. So we have to look at the whole process about what’s being done to disenfranchise. While I understand the frustration with this particular candidate [Donald Trump] and other candidates who say things that are just so insulting, we can’t forget that this is still real politics and real policy.
What are some ways people can ensure young people stay engaged?
Many folks are engaged because of the many demonstrations that are going on and that’s a great way to be engaged. Also know your members of congress, know who your mayor is and your city council because technically, these folks work for you so you should know who they are. Know the politicians in your community and stay aware of who’s doing what. See who’s around. One of the most important things in this is make policy and democracy a lifestyle. Utilize your voice to create change whenever you see injustice and speak up because it really starts there.
Chicago Reader: “Can Vic Mensa radicalize Lollapalooza? The Chicago rapper publicly supports Black Lives Matter and LGBT rights, among other progressive causes—which makes him an interesting fit for a festival that tries to please everyone.”
On July 5, Alton Sterling was selling CDs in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when he was tackled to the ground and fatally shot by police. A chorus of prominent voices have eulogized the 37-year-old father of five, who many believe died because he was black—among them Chicago rapper and Save Money cofounder Vic Mensa. Within days of the killing, Mensa posted an Instagram photo of Sterling, his face lit up by an open-mouthed smile. He captioned it with a heartfelt plea for us to change the way we see race: “Tell yourself that you don’t need to fear a man just because of the color of his skin.”
That photo of Sterling became the source material for a spray-painted mural that now adorns a wall outside Triple S Food Mart. On Thursday, July 14, Mensa shared an Instagram photo of himself in front of that mural. He’d traveled to Baton Rouge as a spokesperson for Respect My Vote!, a nonpartisan campaign (under the auspices of the nonprofit coalition Hip Hop Caucus) that aims to get people registered and out to the polls. Mensa encouraged locals to participate in the upcoming election—all 12 city council seats and the mayor-president’s job are up for grabs. He stayed in Baton Rouge to attend Sterling’s funeral on Friday, and I spoke to him just before the ceremony.
Mensa, 23, has plenty to talk about these days. He confronts racial injustice, police violence, and poverty on the ferocious There’s Alot Going On (his debut EP for Roc Nation, released in June), rapping about the poisoned victims and corrupt architects of the Flint water crisis (“Shades of Blue”) and the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of CPD officer Jason Van Dyke (“16 Shots”). Events since then—the fatal police shootings of Sterling and Philando Castile, the redoubled conservative pushback against Black Lives Matter after the killings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the horrifyingly absurd Republican National Convention—have kept these wounds open. By comparison, the occasion for my interview with Mensa felt a little trivial: Lollapalooza.
Mensa has performed at Lollapalooza twice before: with Kids These Days in 2011 and on his own in 2014. This year he headlines the Pepsi stage at 9 PM on Saturday night, a time slot that puts him up against Dutch electro DJ Hardwell, English neohouse duo Disclosure (Mensa’s onetime touring partners), and over-the-hill alt-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’ll be interesting to see how Mensa’s activist hip-hop goes over at a giant corporatized festival that seems allergic to any treatment of the issues he raises.
Not that Lollapalooza abstains from activism, of course. Ever since Perry Farrell launched the fest in 1991 as an elaborate package tour and send-off for his band Jane’s Addiction, it’s opened its gates to worthy causes. This year’s edition hosts a dozen nonprofits and activist organizations, most of them well established nationally if not internationally: they include the One Campaign, which U2 front man Bono cofounded to fight preventable diseases around the world; Rock the Vote and HeadCount, which work to increase election turnout; and Syd Rocks, which helps fund research into the treatment of a little-known pediatric cancer called Langerhans cell histiocytosis. Syd Rocks is based in Chicago, as are a few other groups, among them the volunteer-focused Chicago Cares and two transit-centric organizations, Bike 4 Life and Working Bikes.
These are all fantastic causes, but you might notice something about their areas of interest—they’re all comfortably uncontroversial. I don’t have the highest opinion of Lollapalooza fans—I’ve seen too many of them being assholes to strangers—but I have a hard time imagining even the most despicable concertgoer getting offended by an organization raising awareness of a little-known disease that afflicts children. On the other hand, if Lollapalooza engaged with activist groups addressing issues that tend to start arguments between conservatives and liberals—racism, feminism, LGBT rights—you can be sure a whole bunch of people would be huge dicks about it.
That’s probably why Lollapalooza’s organizers—who like to promote the festival as reflecting Chicago’s vibrant culture—haven’t given a seat at the table this year to nonprofits dealing with some of the city’s most troubling crises. Conspicuously absent are Center on Halsted, the midwest’s largest LGBT community center; CeaseFire, the violence-prevention group known nationally as Cure Violence; and Black Youth Project 100, the national organization whose strong chapter here has been a major voice in protests against the racist use of police force in Chicago.
This is what happens when good intentions collide with the desire to avoid ruffling feathers so the money keeps flowing in. Lollapalooza’s reluctance to acknowledge racial inequality—an urgently important issue not just in Chicago but in the country as a whole—is almost ironic in light of the performance that closed the festival in its inaugural year, when Ice-T joined Jane’s Addiction onstage for a cover of Sly Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” Of course, Farrell thought Lollapalooza would be a onetime thing, so he was more willing to take risks. These days, he’s a spokesperson for Maestro Dobel Tequila (though he’s still attached to the festival, at least for now), and Lollapalooza is an entrenched, corporatized behemoth.
When Blood Orange played Lollapalooza in 2014, the biggest stories to come out of it had little to do with the band’s music. Front man Dev Hynes wore a T-shirt bearing the names of black men killed by police officers, and on-site security personnel allegedly assaulted him and singer Samantha Urbani. (Whether there’s a connection between the shirt and the alleged assault remains to be seen.) In an environment where a shirt like that can raise eyebrows, Mensa will feel downright radical. About his festival set, he tells me, “I’ll have a lot to say.” But he won’t go into detail: “You’ll have to come and see.”
When Mensa dropped There’s Alot Going On he told Billboard, “I think the idea of activism, more so a revolutionary mindset, is something that has been with me for most of my life, especially since I was about 16 years old.” He says that’s when poet Aja Monet passed along copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Revolutionary Suicide, the memoir of Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton. Activism has been part of his music for the past seven years, he explains—and while that’s definitely true, it’s become much more overt on There’s Alot Going On.
Mensa’s first solo EP, 2010’s Straight Up, which he self-released at 17, ends with the mournful “Whispers,” where he raps about the shootings that claim a disproportionate number of young black men: “Black sky / Mother lamenting over her dead son / You ask why / The bullet wound from which a nigga bled run / For hours before the law even decide to show they face / Now they closin’ up the casket like they ’bout to close the case.” The track ends with Monet delivering spoken word over a sweltering trumpet melody from Nico Segal, better known as Donnie Trumpet.
In the band Kids These Days, active from 2009 till ’13, Mensa added subtle commentary on Chicago’s segregation and violence to his lyrics. On the sinister “Don’t Harsh My Mellow,” from their final release, 2012’s Traphouse Rock, he delivers the line “I’m Elie Wiesel coming live from out the ghetto.” Later he infused his effervescent breakthrough mixtape, 2013’s Innanetape, with personal-as-political storytelling. On the slapping electro track “Yap Yap,” he describes the bleak view that many people like him have of the legal system: “No Scared Straight! Throw children in jail / General consensus is we off the hinges.”
In the two years since his previous Lollapalooza set, Mensa says, the biggest change he’s gone through has been becoming the artist he’s always seen himself as. He’s overtly political now, though he doesn’t much care to work within the system. In an interview on syndicated New York radio show The Breakfast Club in June, he described politics as “all smoke and mirrors, and a lot of time very little truth”—he’s much more focused on bringing “power to the people.”
Mensa says he became a spokesperson for Respect My Vote! this year with the help of Chicago poet and songwriter Malik Yusef, who serves as Hip Hop Caucus’s director of arts and culture. Less than a week after Mensa dropped There’s Alot Going On, he appeared with Hip Hop Caucus founder Lennox Yearwood in a town-hall election discussion cohosted by hip-hop lifestyle site Complex. When asked why marginalized folks who are struggling to survive should divert any energy at all to voting, Mensa said, “You talk about people stuck outside the building, and they feel like these doors will never open for them. Well, you know what? This is one door you can open yourself.”
Despite Mensa’s anger and clear desire for retribution, his response has been peaceful. He’s been using his rising profile to bring attention to causes he believes in. In November, Mensa joined protests marching through downtown Chicago after the release of the dashcam footage of McDonald’s death. When Vice’s TV channel, Viceland, profiled Mensa in an episode of the music-centric program Noisey, the show closed with footage of him at one of those marches.
The lyrics to “16 Shots” also refer to that protest experience. Mensa premiered the song at a Justice for Flint benefit concert in February, and in April he performed it during the opening night of “Our Duty to Fight,” an art exhibit honoring Black Lives Matter activists at UIC’s Gallery 400. Since the release of There’s Alot Going On, he’s kept up the fight for what he believes in through collaborations and one-off tracks. On Towkio’s “G W M,” Mensa rips into Spike Lee’s touristic depiction of Chicago violence in Chi-Raq: “Nigga fuck Spike Lee / City notorious for niggas getting shot / It’s not a movie scene.” And in a fiery freestyle for DJ Semtex’s program for BBC Radio 1Xtra, he condemns the gentrification that’s driven the poor out of Cabrini-Green (“And U-Hauls came and shipped niggas out the projects / And tore the buildings down and then they built a brand-new Target”) and the fear of blackness that caused Alton Sterling’s death (“Now compare that to niggas with guns / You ain’t even gotta reach / They put a clip in ya / Bullets at your fibula / Bystander filmed it on a cellular / Welcome to KKK America”).
Mensa is willing to push himself out of his comfort zone to tackle themes and issues he cares about, and this emerging fearlessness makes him even more compelling. At the end of June, he released “Free Love,” a song about LGBT rights that features Malik Yusef, New York queer rapper Le1f, genre-blurring pop star Halsey, and based rapper Lil B. Mensa performed it at a Pride party that was part of Smart Bar’s Sunday-night Queen series, and he made a T-shirt whose sales benefited victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. In a note about the song that he posted on Twitter, Mensa wrote that though he’d long been a supporter of LGBT rights, “I didn’t feel personally attached or really feel like it was my battle to fight.” His indifference dissolved, he explained, after a family member came out to him: “I realize now that as a creature of love, the battles of all people fighting to love are also mine.”
I ask Mensa what people who want to be allies for causes that aren’t theirs can do to help. The more I see people arguing past each other online, with the bitter divisions between them growing deeper, the more I think everyone should take the rapper’s advice to heart: “Just listen.”
Photo Credit: Vic Mensa (second from right) stands his ground with protesters who took to the streets of Chicago on November 24, 2015, after the release of the Laquan McDonald dashcam video.
Scott Olson/Getty Images