No Help for Obama From Hip-Hop This Time

The appeal to the youth vote has fallen flat because of disillusionment and delay.

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Promote the Vote Block Party in Philadelphia, November 2008 (Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

Barack Obama needed hip-hop in 2008, and, well, today not much has changed.

Historically, a candidate who relies on the youth vote ends up on the losing side. But two years ago, Obama's youth-oriented campaign proved triumphant. In fact, Obama did what many thought would be political suicide: He made it a priority to connect with the hip-hop community in order to rally young voters. And with hip-hop's help, Obama received the strongest support -- 68 percent, to be exact -- from 18- to 29-year-olds.  

Five days after Obama won the election, Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy told NPR: "I was convinced from Day 1 when I found out he was running. It's kind of really rough out here for a lot of people, and I think he gave 'em hope. He was a new voice; he had a new message."  

It's not every day that hard-core rappers support political leaders, let alone become active in the political process. However, the 2008 presidential election was a revolutionary discovery for both the culture of hip-hop -- which had grown accustomed to voter apathy and disingenuous political leaders -- and observers of the culture, who had witnessed only callousness and the complete disregard for the sacrifices of civil rights leaders.

In the marriage of hip-hop and politics, young people began to show promise. Hip-hop came through for Obama in a major way in the last presidential election. But what was so special about Obama that propelled a culture, so narcissistic at times, to invest its time in a political campaign when many of those who were a part of it had never even voted?

I asked a few influential people in politics and hip-hop, and the one theme that resonated was Obama's power of inclusion.

Actor Hill Harper: "When you see people who have never voted before standing in two- to three-hour lines to cast their vote, somehow and some way they were convinced that they make a difference, that standing in that line and actually casting that vote makes a difference, and that's pretty powerful."

Ambassador Andrew Young: "Well, he knows hip-hop, and they identify with him. That's the first time they have identified with any president that strongly."

Music executive Kevin Liles: "Barack was our civil rights movement … Barack is to us what Martin Luther King was to them."

DJ Drama: "He did a lot from the ground up, you know, the grass-roots way. He took advantage of a lot of key components … and I think that people in our position had a voice and, almost to some extent, had an obligation to help him get as many people as possible, especially young people, to the polls."