Hip-hop and politics intermixed during an evening of panel discussions that kicked off the second annual #BarackTalk State of the Union watch party on Tues., Jan. 24.
"When we look at national elections, we expect for the president to solve every problem that affects us," Chicago rapper Rhymefest said during the first session. "So now, especially black voters, we need to become more sophisticated in how we view politics."
Rhymefest, who also mentioned the recent Internet craze surrounding President [Barack] Obama singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," participated on the panel with Michael Skolnick, co-president of Global Grind, Janee Bolden of Bossip.com and Shaheem Reid of XXL magazine.
The talks focused on President Obama's image and influence, and the impact of the music industry on politics. The watch party later featured an impromptu speech by Barbara Paz Conejo, a resident of Ward 8 and employee at Busboys and Poets on Fifth and K streets where BarackTalk was held. In her speech, Conejo spoke about the state of the public school system, specifically in D.C., and called for a re-evaluation of the purpose of public school education.
The event, sponsored by the League of Young Voters in conjunction with AllHipHop.com and Rock The Vote, was broadcast through Ustream and on various sites. The first #BarackTalk in 2011 garnered 7,000 viewers. During this year's event, the number of viewers increased to more than 32,000, according to New Orleans-based rapper and event moderator Dee-1.
Speaking on the second panel were Maryland rapper Phil Ade; model Sabrina Hunter; Jamira Burley, coordinator for the Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance, and Chuck Creekmur, CEO of AllHipHop.com.
Issues included the importance of entrepreneurship, the role of the media in spreading political awareness and the president's accountability.
"The president is the leader of our country, but by the same token, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and only then will we really begin to make the change and progress in this country and our own individual community," Creekmur said. "I think each and every one of us needs to really take a young person or an old person under their wing and really help them find their way, too."
Burley questioned whether Obama will be able to inspire young voters in this year's elections as effectively as he did in 2008. She said a lot of young people are dissatisfied with what the president and his administration have done to address their issues and concerns.
Throughout the event, audience members and guest speakers gave their opinions on budding political issues until the room silenced for the State of the Union address. Everyone's eyes were glued to a projector screen while Obama made his way to the podium to address the nation.
Inspiring Young People
At the end of the night, Burley didn't see the president's address as something that would rally young people to vote for him again. She does however think the right change in the president's campaign strategy could inspire young people.
"I don't think by any means that the State of the Union made them any more confident to make them want to get out," Burley said. "Something really has to happen to inspire them to even want to be a part of the process again."
Toward the conclusion of the event, Rob "Biko" Barker from the League of Young Voters, grabbed a microphone and took to the crowd asking for audience participation and insight. Viewers on Ustream and those in the audience were encouraged to ask questions and include BarackTalk in their tweets about the event on Twitter.
Moderator Dee-1 said social media is one of the most effective ways to reach young people and encourage their political awareness.
"We're meeting them where they're at," he said. "They're on Ustream. They're on Twitter. So we're meeting them on the mediums that they naturally go on."
Dee-1, who was once a middle-school math teacher in New Orleans, said it's important that once people reach the age of 18 they realize their journey into adulthood comes with responsibilities.
"In our society, we like to overemphasize the teenage years and being young and having fun and just being able to be carefree and wild," he said. "We need to quit that—especially the men—you know, I can speak 'cause I'm a man.
"Men just have this extended adolescence, and that's why we're not being responsible fathers to our children. That's why people are running away from the responsibilities of manhood, and one of the responsibilities of adulthood that need to be stressed is to vote."
In his closing remarks, Dee-1 said #BarackTalk was organized with the intention to inspire others to encourage their friends, family and community to register to vote.
"Whether you're someone who's already engaged politically and you care about what's going on and you are registered to vote and you plan on voting, we still did this for you."