The Internet lit up last week with the news that rapper 2 Chainz—whose given name is Tauheed Epps—says he’s considering running for mayor of College Park, Ga. Fresh off his widely discussed debate with HLN host Nancy Grace over the legalization of marijuana, Epps confirmed that he is interested in becoming mayor and is exploring his eligibility.
And while there’s some question about whether he meets the residency requirement, the basic electoral math is pretty clear: 2 Chainz would have a solid shot at winning—no lie.
Consider this: College Park is a town of 14,000 people and is 80 percent black. The current mayor, who is white and has been in office for 20 years, won the last election in 2011 with a total of 769 votes—71 percent of all cast—meaning that fewer than 1,100 people voted. With his star power, 2 Chainz could register a winning percentage of voters in a single weekend and, as important, get them to turn out.
If it’s done correctly, he probably wins in a landslide.
Whether or not 2 Chainz—or, if you like, Mayor Epps—would be good for the city of College Park would remain to be seen. But the example he’d set by simply running for office could be one of the most important things he could do—win or lose. Because if he, along with pop-culture figures like him, helps make running for and holding political office seem more accessible and realistic to a younger, rising generation in majority-black localities, then cities like College Park and Ferguson, Mo., could dramatically change their leadership in a single election cycle. And these communities would have a greater share of the leadership and responsibility required to make the changes they seek.
Hip-hop is a natural nexus for youth and activism, and whether rappers are reporting out the concerns in their communities or calling for the activism to generate change, many hip-hop artists have already planted the seeds of political involvement. They’ve encouraged voting, become leaders in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and given time and money to various community initiatives, such as Black Thought’s involvement with GrassROOTS, promoting girls’ health.
But when it comes to running for office, artists who choose this path are few and far between, like 2 Live Crew’s Luke Campbell, who came in third in the 2011 Miami-Dade mayoral race, and Wyclef Jean, who filed to run for president of his native Haiti.
An artist running for office and becoming part of the local political apparatus—one who was genuinely representative of the community that he or she would represent—not only would help narrow the gap in many communities between the electorate and the elected but also would break the commonly perceived mold of who citizen-politicians are and the professional profile we tend to expect them to have.
A new generation of black activists has taken to the streets, town halls and social media to protest the aggressive policing of their communities and to demand justice from local, state and federal governments. It’s a necessary and effective part of the process, but it isn’t sufficient. There must also be government representatives to champion and implement the policy changes that people want. When an elected official is connected to those aims, the movement’s voice is clearly amplified.
Marching may get a disenfranchised group an audience with local leadership. But if those leaders first have to be convinced that a problem exists, that they’re the ones responsible for addressing it—or that they should even care—then tremendous energy is expended having that argument instead of identifying solutions. And the ensuing political compromise can water down whatever solution is implemented. But when elected officials and their constituents are on the same page, change can happen more quickly.
We need more information before we can know if 2 Chainz, or another artist running for office, would be the right choice for their respective communities or municipalities. Obviously, it will depend on the office, situation and person. But what seems likely is that a rapper running for office—on a platform that resonated with his constituency—would draw more attention and interest in local politics from younger voters, who often have the most at stake but engage the least in local elections.
So if he’s eligible, 2 Chainz should absolutely run for mayor. And so should other artists who are politically so inclined. While winning office would be the obvious goal, the secondary victory, regardless of the election’s outcome, would be making local politics inclusive of the generation that needs a greater voice in city hall.
Theodore R. Johnson III is a former White House fellow. His writing focuses on race, society and politics. Follow him on Twitter.