What Became of the Hip-Hop Politicians?

They were supposed to be the new breed. What happened to elected officials of the hip-hop generation?

Harold Ford (David Goldman); Artur Davis (Chip Somodevilla/Getty); Jesse Jackson Jr. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty)
Harold Ford (David Goldman); Artur Davis (Chip Somodevilla/Getty); Jesse Jackson Jr. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty)

(The Root) — During the Congressional Black Caucus legislative week in 2004, there was a fundraising reception held for a young black politician from Chicago who hoped to represent his state in the U.S. Senate. The honorary chairs of the fundraiser were Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), Artur Davis (D-Ala.) and Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.). They helped raise money for Barack Obama, who went on to win the Illinois Senate seat. We all know how the story ends. In 2008 Obama became the first black president of the United States and in November was elected for a second term.

The young black politicians who helped raise funds for Obama were known as the “the New Breed.” They arrived in Washington during the mid- to late 1990s and early 2000s and were part of the hip-hop generation, the generation born between 1965 and 1984. Jackson became a member of Congress in 1995. Ford joined him in the House two years later. In January 2003, Meek and Davis were sworn in. And just two years earlier, in 2001, Kwame Kilpatrick became the youngest mayor of Detroit when he was elected at age 31.

“I think it’s exciting anytime young people of color emerge in an elected office,” James Peterson, director of Africana studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University, told The Root. “It’s doubly exciting when those folks come from the hip-hop generation and identify with the constituents of hip-hop culture.”

Indeed. This cohort of young black politicians was smart, driven, dynamic and energetic. They hadn’t marched on Washington, but they had come to take Washington by storm.

“The younger generation really tried to position themselves as being part of the new breed that didn’t wear race on their sleeve, that was committed to reform and good government … and to do better than previous generations of black politicians had done and actually be able to address inequality in the community,” said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University and author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America.

One of the most ambitious was Ford. When he entered Congress in 1997, he was selected as the Democrats’ freshman class president. He was only 30 years old in 2000 when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Two years later, he boldly ran for the position of Democratic leader, ultimately losing to veteran lawmaker Nancy Pelosi, who became the first woman to lead a party in Congress.

But what happened to these young men who came into office with such ambition? Unfortunately, their aspirations met reality, Gillespie said.

Ford and Meek, both from political families, ran for Senate in their respective states and lost. Davis, a Harvard graduate and former assistant U.S. attorney, wanted to be the first black governor of Alabama but failed to secure the Democratic nomination in his state.