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Opinion

For a 2012 Obama win, hip-hop stars must 'Barack the vote' like they did in 2008

Rap and hip-hop artists have turned down the volume on their once-boisterous efforts to rally their fans – a key part of President Obama’s base – to support him in 2012. To see Obama take office for a second term, the hip-hop community needs to return to the momentum it built in 2008.

By Nakia Hill / May 4, 2012

This is a screen grab of the 2008 YouTube video by will.i.am for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, in which the Black Eyed Peas member, along with other music artists, actors, and celebrities, echo Obama's campaign pledge "Yes, we can." Op-ed contributor Nakia Hill says, 'if Obama wants to breathe new life into the electorate...influential hip-hop artists need to step up to the microphone and lobby more young and urban voters.'

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Boston

The hip-hop community stood in a loyal b-boy stance behind President Obama in 2008. Sean “Diddy” Combs encouraged young voters to “Vote or Die,” Jay-Z endorsed Mr. Obama on tour, and others rallied the urban community and millennial voters to jump on the “change” bandwagon.

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The hip-hop community’s enthusiasm during Obama’s 2008 campaign was contagious. Young voters were chanting Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black,” hip-hop’s ode to Obama. But nearly four years later, rap and hip-hop artists have turned down the volume on their once-boisterous efforts to encourage their fans – a key part of Obama’s base – to get out and Barack the vote.

To see Obama take office for a second term, the hip-hop community needs to return to the momentum it built in 2008.

Logic suggests that hip-hop likely played a pivotal role in the record-breaking turnout in 2008 for young voters and African Americans. Hip-hop consumers tend to be young, traditionally African-American, Latinos, or people of color, and often in urban areas. Young people in particular tend to be generally plugged into the music, media, and celebrity scene – in which hip-hop enjoys a growing presence.

Hip-hop music has long been the leading voice of urban America. Its politically charged lyrics have spread awareness of the issues inner city communities face. As the genre has become more mainstream, often dominating top 40 pop station playlists, the influence of hip-hop artists has only increased.

In 2008, about 23 percent of Obama voters were African-American, 10 percent were Hispanic, and 24 percent were under 30. Total, those groups made up more than half of the more than 65 million people who voted for Obama.

In what is projected to be a tight election, the enthusiasm of Obama’s base will be vital to the success of his campaign. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 57 percent of young voters currently approve of Obama, a decrease of 18 percentage points since Obama took office in January 2009, when the figure stood at 75 percent. Analysts and early survey data suggest Obama may face problems rallying his base – particularly young voters – this time around.

Slow economic recovery, high unemployment for young people and African Americans, and high student-loan interest rates may explain the dampened enthusiasm for the president.

Some hip-hop artists have even publicly criticized Obama’s first term. A slightly disillusioned rapper turned mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs said in The Source magazine for February/March 2011, “I love the president like most of us. I just want the president to do better.”

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