Nov. 4, 2008 was a historic day. After eight years as a nation unified yet divided amid the biggest attack in our history, we endured a war started for what many felt were questionable reasons. Add in a recession, not to mention the lackluster response to one of the biggest natural disasters in history, and it was time for a change.
And it came. With Barack Obama, we got a commander-in-chief a shade darker with an optimistic mindset. Maybe it was his race. Maybe it was his promise of change, but Obama struck a nerve with the general public as well as rappers. Well-known for their sometimes anti-political stances, many rhymesayers put aside their disdain to voice their support of presidential candidate Obama. One of the first to do so was Common, who co-signed the then-Chicago senator in 2004 on Jadakiss’ “Why” remix.
“Why is Bush actin like he trying to get Osama? / Why don’t we impeach him and elect Obama?” the rhymeslinger stated.
Four years later, America did just that. Obama was sworn in as America’s 44th president in 2009. The era of change was set to begin. Since that day, progress has been made. Slowly. Not fast enough for the ones still feeling the effects of the recession. Steady and on pace for the patient.
Nevertheless, many of us have the same issues on the table to deal with. With Election Day coming, we took a look at some of the more pressing issues on voter’s and emcee’s collective minds, and weighed them against the most objective data available. The question is, what will be on your mind when you cast your vote?
What Hip Hop Says: “Bullshit soon as I come in the job / Boss hit me with the news like a box-cutter under the jaw / Said they just had a meeting and about 300 / Of y'all getting’ fired ‘cause we been defunded / Can’t say I didn’t even see it coming…Five dollar gas, and poverty rates / Are rising much higher than your hourly rates / So if you thinkin ‘bout quittin’ you should probably wait / ‘Cause everybody gotta do a fuckin’ job that they hate – Phonte “The Good Fight.”
What The Numbers Say: Despite 30 consecutive months of job growth and 4.6 million new private sector jobs, many people are still unemployed. Price increases across the board and mounting bills aren’t making it any easier for families in need of relief.
Recovering from the recession and reducing unemployment have been chief priorities for the Obama administration, which inherited a less than stellar economy from President George W. Bush. Upon signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the Recovery Act or Stimulus) into law, Obama opened the door for job growth. Many praised the stimulus package for expanding unemployment benefits, spurring job growth, saving jobs and providing temporary relief programs for those most impacted by the recession.
Overall, Obama helped to add half a million manufacturing jobs since January 2010 as well as save the auto industry with more than 1 million jobs. Still, no matter the amount of job growth, many of those personally unable to get back in the rat race share Jay-Z’s sentiments, when he weighed in on the President’s efforts to get Americans back to work.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Jay-Z offered in a Watch The Throne listening session covered by GQ. “Unemployment is pretty high. It’s f—ed up, but he’s trying not to be the angry black man.”
Unemployment was at 5% in January of 2008 and peaked at 10% in October of 2009 during Obama’s first year in office. The financial crisis of 2008 proved to influence these numbers. Between February 2009 and June 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 4.62 million jobs were lost. During that same time period, 4.304 million jobs were gained. The result: A net loss of 316,000 jobs. The latest stats were released on October 5, and they show slight improvement with a 7.8 % unemployment rate for the month of September.
The new report offers a bit of encouragement as people continue to hold out for work. Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has vowed to bring more opportunity for employment if elected, with the creation of 12 million jobs in four years as part of his five-point plan.
While the blame could easily fall on Obama, an investigation from the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, points out that the 2008 financial crisis was preventable, while holding key members of the Obama and Bush administrations responsible. As it stands now, all eyes are on the next report, which arrives November 2, four days before the presidential election. No president since FDR has been re-elected with unemployment over 8%.
What Hip Hop Says: “Glucose high / Higher than it’s ever been / Cold part about it / I can’t afford my medicine / We got a new president / Hopefully he’s heaven sent / A young black man / Highly educated intelligent…” –E-40, “It Gotta Get Better.”
What The Numbers Say: For many, the lack of stable employment has made healthcare more of a luxury than a necessity. Romney and Obama have made healthcare one of the central issues of their respective campaigns, as they have stumped on the merits and faults of the President’s current plan. Labeled “Obamacare,” by conservatives, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was lauded as a major victory for Obama. The PPACA is designed to give healthcare to every American by providing a variety of incentives for employers and individuals to secure coverage. One of the plan’s standouts involve insurance companies being required to provide coverage for all applicants and offer the same rates regardless of their gender or any pre-existing conditions. The federal statute represented the most significant overhaul in healthcare since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
In a 2004 report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) mentioned that the “lack of health insurance annually causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths United States.” That same report also found that, “the United States is among the few industrialized nations in the world that does not guarantee access to health care for its population.”
The issue is an especially personal for one of Hip Hop’s co-founders, DJ Kool Herc. Last year, news surfaced that the pioneering deejay was in financial peril from being without insurance to cover the cost of surgery he had for kidney stones.
“We live in one of the superpowers of the world!” Kool Herc stated to MTV News. “Give me your tired, your poor…and then you don't take care of them? There should be no weak ants in the colony…Now we are fighting for health care not just for me, but for everyone. I see this situation as another quest for me to shine light on a sensitive issue for the community.”
Herc is among many rappers who have encountered their share of health problems over the years. Gravediggaz member Anthony “Too Poetic” Berkeley passed away in 2001 after a two-year battle with colon cancer. Rick Ross’ seizures while on tour have been chronicled as well as J. Dilla’s fatal bout with lupus. There are also examples of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg and his diabetes and Prodigy of Mobb Deep’s sickle-cell anemia.
A series of projections from the Congressional Budget Office indicated that the PPACA will not only add $109 billion to the federal budget deficit but also will save $700 billion due to various Medicare-reform provisions. In addition, the Office believes the federal budget will be reduced by $210 billion reduction to the federal budget deficit once the PPACA is enacted.
The total projected revenue from now through 2022 in insurance provisions through the Affordable Care Act, as projected by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, is $514 billion (including $55 billion in penalties against the uninsured). Tax penalties will also loom for large employers who will pay an additional $117 billion in tax penalties if they choose not provide insurance.
No matter where lawmakers stand, the numbers and projections associated with the PPACA may shed light on how things will be down the road. For everyday people, healthcare can be part of a bigger dilemma in terms of juggling funds to get what’s needed and having enough to support yourself.
What Hip Hop Says: “And I’m from the murder capital / Where they murder for capital / Heard about at least three killings this afternoon / Lookin’ at the news / Like I was just with him after school / No shop class / But half the school got a tool…” –Kanye West, “Murder To Excellence.”
What The Numbers Say: The right to bear arms has never been a question for those residing on American soil. But with high profile incidents like the shootings of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Trayvon Martin, arguments for gun regulation continue to be voiced. Add in killings such as the July mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and people remain on edge.
Freddie Gibbs put it plain and simple in his song, “Thuggin’,” as he noted a more important focus that those in higher law enforcement should pay attention to.
“Why the feds worried about me clockin’ on this corner / When it’s politicians out here getting popped in Arizona…” the rapper stated.
Gibbs’ commentary strikes a chord in many different areas. After gathering information volunteered by roughly 14,000 law enforcement jurisdictions from across the nation, the FBI concluded that violent crimes dropped in all four major U.S. regions: 4.7% in the West, 4% in the Midwest (where the murder rate actually rose slightly), 4% in the South, and 0.8% in the Northeast. The national murder rate dropped by 1.9%.
The murder rate may have decreased, but a recent gallop poll alludes to a newer trend. The FBI found the self-reported gun ownership rate at 47% –the highest it’s been since the rate was 44% in 2007. With the figure not accounting for illegally possessed weapons, it gives a glimpse in to the issue at hand.
Despite gun violence routinely making the news, gun control may not be high on the list of issues for Obama or Romney. Media sources point out that the President hasn’t made a significant dent in pushing for gun control measures. Nevertheless, the White House maintains that Obama favors “robust steps, within existing law” to address gun issues.
On separate occasions, T.I., Maino and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy have weighed in on the need for more education about gun violence. The latter two emcees joined New York City community activist Erica Ford for the annual Peace Week rally. It was an interesting move given how prevalent gun talk has been within certain Hip Hop circles over the last few decades.
A prime opportunity for both candidates to promote an end to gun violence came and went after the Colorado shooting with the chance to get behind a bill that would let only licensed dealers sell ammunition, require police to be notified after any sale of more than 1,000 rounds to an unlicensed person and require buyers who aren't licensed dealers to show a photo ID.
Whether Romney and Obama take a more pronounced stand on gun control in the days leading to the election is anybody’s guess. While quiet in addressing the issue on a national scale, both candidates have made waves in their respective home states. Obama supports tougher gun control in Chicago while proposing a renewal of the assault weapons ban and requiring background checks for buyers at gun shows. It should be noted that the President did not make good on campaign pledges to restore the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and require background checks for guns sold by non-dealers at gun shows. And Romney’s opposition to stricter laws has anchored his stance on gun control. In 2002, the father of five vowed in 2002 to protect Massachusetts’s “tough gun laws” and signed a ban on assault weapons in Massachusetts two years later.
Hip Hop As Social Commentary
As we sit awash in uninformed punditry and a 24-hour news cycle more interested in filling advertising space with campaign gaffes than providing actual journalism, Hip Hop (for all of its many faults) seems to be performing one key job function. Public Enemy’s Chuck D once infamously said, “Rap is CNN for black people.” As outlets such as CNN and their conservative counterpart Fox News make a sad transition into the “news entertainment” category, some of Hip Hop’s more notable contributors are providing socio-political commentary we used to get from our news networks.
With just over two weeks to go until the 2012 election, stakes couldn’t be higher. The ironic thing is that Republicans are making the same argument for change Democrats made leading up to the 2008 election. The roles have changed, but the issues remain the same. America is at a crossroads once again with only few certainties and even fewer solutions. Polls show a tight race that could go either way. The only sure thing going for voters is knowing they have the freedom to choose whoever the best person is to make life easier for them. Presidents change. Views change. Situations change. Or remain the same. All of the above made possible by you.
Chris Richburg is a freelance journalist for HipHopDX who resides in Rock Hill, SC. He has contributed to EURweb.com, AllHipHop.com, SphereofHipHop.com, Urban Hitz magazine and The Herald (Rock Hill), among others. Follow him on Twitter at @Qwest7.