Last week hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco was at the center of an online frenzy when he was attacked on the social media Website Twitter for his decision not to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Although Fiasco has been credited as a pioneer of the conscious hip-hop movement, which focuses on social issues, his stance on not voting in U.S. elections was criticized by national personalities D.L Hughley and Roland Martin who said his voice carries weight with young African-American men. Fiasco, who has been vocal about his disproval of President Barack Obama, defended his position on not voting, but encouraged others to make their own decision.
“Oh hey, guys, make sure you register to vote and vote for who u think is best to help you live your life the way you want. I dont vote...,” Fiasco said via Twitter Sept. 20. “but just cuz i dont vote doesnt mean you have to be like me. Be your own person cuz at the end of the day only you can live your life.”
This recent controversy was one of the major talking points at Ignite 2012 From the Blogs to the Block, when it made a stop in Pittsburgh Sept. 22. The national tour, sponsored by the League of Young Voters Education Fund, brought together leaders in activism and hip-hop from across the country.
“Lupe Fiasco is the kind of artist we need to embrace,” said panelist James Patterson, an MSNBC commentator. “He’s someone who feels his community.”
Still the Fiasco incident highlighted the impact hip-hop artists have on the African-American community and the correlations between hip-hop and politics. Several of the panelists said hip-hop artists should use their power for good to promote political activism as opposed to promoting negative stereotypes about Black men and women.
“On one hand you have a large amount of money influencing both (politics and hip-hop). You have people taking the power away from the people in both,” said Jasiri X, a local hip-hop artist and co-founder of One Hood Media, who hosted the event at the Kelly Strayhorn Theatre. “We wanted to begin a conversation around engaging our community in politics and voting. We need to encourage people to take back power.”
The focus of the panel discussions was on proactive strategies to engage urban millennials in the democratic process. The goal of Ignite 2012 is to reignite the youth vote and inspire 100,000 young voters to participate in the 2012 election.
“We can’t bully people into voting. We need to talk to them about the reasons we need to vote,” said Bakari Kitwana, CEO of Rap Sessions: Community Dialogues on Hip-Hop, which conducts town hall meetings around the country. “We need to tell this administration what we want for our vote. We didn’t do that last time.”
“Whether or not we choose to vote, a president will be elected,” said Dee-1, a rapper from New Orleans. “So we have to decide if we want to be a part of that process or just sit back and watch the process.”
Other panelists included Rocsi Diaz, co-host of BET’s 106 & Park; Chuck Creekmur, founder of AllHipHop.com; Biko Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters; Malik Rhasaan, founder of OccupytheHood; Paradise Gray, co-founder of One Hood Media; Kim Osorio, editor-in-chief of Source Magazine; Dream Hampton, Jay-Z biographer and hip-hop journalist. There were also live musical performances by Dee-1, Aliesa Nicole, Tarica June and Jasiri X.