Turning Rhymes Into Votes


It’s difficult for most people to come up with positive social attributes for hip-hop. Mainstream America views it largely as a disruptive force, one that represents a litany of social ills perpetrated by young people: disrespect for authority, glorification of violence and misogyny, ghetto-to-glamour materialism, and rampant drug dealing and abuse. When a teenager cruises by in a low-riding, tricked-out car, rattling and thumping with bass beats, few people see in him or her the bright future of American politics.

But Bakari Kitwana does. He sees enormous potential for a powerful voting bloc among the "hip-hop generation," those born between 1965 and 1984. He believes young people, and young black people in particular, can turn the tide of social and political neglect that has limited their options since the civil rights movement—if they can get themselves organized.

A former top editor of The Source magazine, an industry authority on rap culture, and now a visiting scholar at Kent State, Kitwana has been immersed in the culture of hip-hop since his childhood in New York, where he grew up alongside emerging DJs and MCs. The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture by Kitwana (2002) documents the distinct challenges facing today’s youth.

They’re challenges with which Kitwana is familiar—he’s part of the hip-hop generation himself. Kitwana’s lively lectures and publications, including his new book Why White Kids Love Hip Hop, demonstrate his intimate knowledge of a much-maligned and often overlooked demographic, as well as a hope that they can rise above what society has come to expect from them.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2004
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