Jay-Z Lauds Obama

(Originally published on MOLI 3/25/8)

Four years ago, journalists and pundits hailed the ’04 presidential election as the first one in which the hip-hop generation might affect the outcome. Numerous rappers and music impresarios rolled out various get-out-the-vote campaigns (this journalist accompanied the Reverend Run and Russell Simmons as they worked a Miami flea market and also tagged along with Missy Elliott as she went to cast a ballot at an Aventura condo). There was a marked, but not giant, increase in the youth turnout at the electoral polls. But it was unclear what precise effect the rap attack had, since all of the campaigns — unlike Bruce Springsteen’s Vote for Change Kerry effort — were nonpartisan.

This year, hip-hop’s leaders are taking their electoral politics a step further. In ’04, Jay-Z — with Memphis Bleek and Ludacris by his side — rolled out his voter-drive campaign (along with a new sneaker line) at a shoe store in downtown Miami the day after the MTV Video Music Awards. Saturday night, he again chose the Bottom as the site for a political announcement (and why not, given Florida’s infamous role in the ’00 voting debacle). Shortly after taking the stage at Miami’s American Airlines Arena for the launch of his Heart of the City tour with Mary J. Blige, Hova repeatedly flashed a picture of George W. Bush. “Ready for a change, right?” Shawn Carter asked the frenzied, sold-out crowd. Then the image of the thin-lipped commander in chief was replaced by a smiling shot of Barack Obama.

Def Jam and Hip-Hop Summit Action Network founder Russell Simmons and Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am have also announced their support of Obama. It’s not surprising that the first serious African-American contender for president is drawing out the hip-hop vote. And while in the wake of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, Obama is not likely to go touting his support from the rapper who styles himself an American Gangster; still, as a star and as a sometime music-industry CEO, Jay is a good person to have in your pocket.

Hova knows the importance of powerful friends. That’s why he had Blige – who sang her ass off — open for him and Kanye West, Young Jeezy, Timbaland, and Bleek all join him on stage Saturday. There was little politicking; most of the night was about celebrating these two greats’ decade-plus in music with some serious demonstration of skills.

You’ll have to watch out for my review of the show in an upcoming Spin magazine to find out more. Hint: I endorse the ticket of Mary Jay Z.

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