On November 2nd, American citizens will choose who they want to lead their national and local governments. For the past twelve months, political rallies took place so candidates could gather support and discuss issues. While everyone has done their task to get support, one of the most encouraging voices in this political season has been the music industry. Whether it’s through song, protest or public speaking, artists have always made their political opinions known. Their messages have been so powerful, they have setup their own organizations to promote voter registration.
An important influence has been MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign and every four years, the movement keeps getting stronger. The aim of “Choose or Lose” is to get 20 million voters in the 18-30 demographic to the polls this November. Following in their footsteps is Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. Since the curtain drop of A Raisin in the Sun, he started the “Vote or Die” crusade, which accomplishes the same objective of alerting young people about politics. Combs made it known he has wanted to talk Bush and Kerry, but the opportunity never arose. He did however speak to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic National Convention.
Combs is not alone in his crusade. Plenty of punk rock bands have played a role in voter registration. At the 2004 Warped Tour, young citizens went to the booths and signed up to register. Aside from the ever-so-popular Rock Against Bush CDs/DVDs, the Rock Against Bush Tour is taking place right now, featuring Anti-Flag and Tom Morello. On top of that, the cornerstone of this brainchild, PunkVoter.com, started becoming even more popular. This association is headed up by prominent punk bands like NOFX, Bad Religion and Green Day, but members range from the Foo Fighters to No Doubt. Their target is to educate, register and mobilize over 500,000 of today’s youth as one voice. Several factors caught this group’s eye, which include protecting personal freedoms, restoring the environment and overhauling the justice department. PunkVoter.com even provides solid facts as to why they established. Did you know 60% of 2003 graduates will move back in with mom and dad because of the lack of jobs? Did you know the unemployment rate has reached nine-year highs? Did you also know the 18 to 24 year-old voter demographic has dropped to an all time low? Punkvoter.com provides various kinds of information.
America Coming Together (ACT) is also getting in on the act. ACT is a liberal group, which has concentrated on the swing states in an attempt to persuade those citizens to vote on the Democratic ticket. To aid in this mission, Bruce Springsteen has launched “Vote for Change” concerts. Artists performing on the bills include Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, James Taylor, R.E.M., Jurassic 5, Babyface, Ben Harper, John Mellencamp and many more.
Rappers voicing their opinions on politics isn’t anything new either. One of the biggest breakthrough songs in this genre (“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5) was about problems in society and how change was wanted. Jadakiss is a prime example of today’s artists being political in rap. In his single “Why?,” the lyrical reference is, “Why did Bush knock down them towers/Why you around them cowards? (referring to 9/11)” This was so controversial, some radio stations edited out the lyric. Public Enemy was very vocal in years past, going back to the Reagan administration. And if you have heard the latest Beastie Boys’ album, To The 5 Boroughs, then you know of their disgust for the Bush administration. It is safe to say hip-hop has been doing their part in raising awareness for this year’s election. Russell Simmons has thrown several summits to get people involved. At one summit in particular, Eminem made an appearance to talk about the importance of this year’s election.
While musicians have done their part to make the general public aware, some won’t encourage voting because they don’t know enough about the arguments. In the October 2004 issue of XXL, there was an article narrated by Dave Chappelle entitled, “Amerikaz Nightmare,” where Chappelle sat down and talked to a few of his favorite artists. Although there were a lot of other issues discussed, politics was an element. Kanye West added his two cents in the conversation-type periodical. “That was one of my main points why I wouldn’t want to go to a lot of summits. It ‘s because I’m supposed to be speaking to 3,000 kids about something that I didn’t really know about and they be using my face,” said West.
Participation by musicians in the political arena isn’t anything new. Social issues have always been at the core of rock ‘n’ roll and it became evident when the Vietnam War broke out. Multiple artists who disagreed with the war took part in the first ever Woodstock, back in 1969. The card included acts ranging from The Who to Jimmy Hendrix and attracted what is believed to be over one million people. For three days, the small town of Bethel was host to a festival of peace, love and music, which impacted a generation.
Entertainers are role models and whether they ask to be or not isn’t the point. When fans buy their albums, go to their concerts, wear their merchandise and sing their songs, music artists instantly become role models. A lot of fans will purchase anything to do with certain talents. For example, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs has his own clothing line called Sean John. Some of the clothes could be the ugliest thing in the world and people would buy it anyway. Same goes with Jay-Z’s Rocawear and every talent’s clothing line or car line or whatever. Fans listen to these artists and hear what they have to say and honestly, if people didn’t like what they hear, they wouldn’t pay any attention to them.
The people decide who sits in Congress and who sits in the White House. Over the past couple of years, many leaders say, “your vote counts,” but maybe some citizens haven’t been educated on the issues. That’s what entertainers are trying to do with their organizations, concerts and songs. These musicians are using their voice for more than just singing. They’re vocalizing a message they hope people will hear: To get involved, make a difference and make a better America. I don’t think it’s a bad thing … I think it’s courageous.
-Special thanks to John Morrison for research