Hip-Hop and Politics


A series of conversations between a couple of friends about the current state of politics and how to engage others — particularly Native Americans and people of color — has left their living rooms and become public in the form of a weekly radio show.

Called "Beats, Rhymes and Democracy," the radio program, which started as a podcast in February 2018, is the brainchild of Band member and Band Lobbyist Jamie Edwards and his politically savvy friend, Brett Buckner.

"The show started as a podcast in Jamie's living room as more of a therapy session for us regarding all the craziness that was going around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," said Brett. "It gave us time to decompress, to theorize, and to begin to mobilize ourselves and our friends around how to respond and to prepare for getting people politically engaged in 2020."

"Beats, Rhymes and Democracy" airs each Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. on KFAI, a volunteer-based community radio station that exists to broadcast information, arts, and enter- tainment to an audience of diverse racial, social, and economic backgrounds.
The Twin Cities-based station lives on the FM dial at either 90.3 FM or 106.7 FM, or visit: kfai.org/program/ beats-rhymes-and-democracy/ to listen online. Past episodes are also available on the site, and the podcast plays across multiple channels.

"We began recording weekly segments for the podcast called 'Hip-Hop & Politics,' and some suggested we change the name to something more eclectic or catchy, but we resisted," said Jamie. "Instead, we continued to record our segments and also began utilizing Facebook and Facebook Live to post pictures of graffiti, footage of hip hop concerts, and videos of interviews with politicos.

"Our strategy with the politicos was that we purposefully peppered them with questions about their knowledge of Hip- Hop music and the needs of the Hip-Hop community (which we defined as mostly people of color — Hip-Hop heads in their teens through age 50-plus, and in some cases even their 60s)."

One point that Jamie stresses is that the myth of Hip-Hop being reserved for the younger generations is false. In fact, Hip-Hop's origins date back to the 1970s, and many middle-aged people still listen to the art form.

"Hip-Hop is a culture with urban roots and a history of connectivity with social-justice-centered movements. Hip-Hop remains an underutilized tool of organizing," said Jamie. "At its core, Hip-Hop is more than just a genre of music — it's a culture, a way of life, a consciousness."

To that end, Jamie was recently featured on a segment of the HBO news show, Vice, as he was in Sioux City, Iowa, in August for the Frank Lemare Native American Presidential Candidates Forum.

The opportunity to be featured on Vice came through Jamie's work with the radio show. People, he said, were paying attention to the radio show and the trail led to him when the news magazine program was looking for an entry point to the happenings in Sioux City.

"This helped put me on the radar from a broadcast radio perspective," said Jamie, adding that people are now seeing another side of him that they didn't know existed — "me as a Hip-Hop head."

Under the duo's umbrella of Hip-Hop & Politics: Edutainment (For the Culture, For the People), the "crew is a collective of community leaders, elected officials, strategists, organizers, artists who not only love Hip-Hop music, but are unified by the culture to create progress within our communities."

Brett says that they are learning that many people feel like them and are looking for answers and how to connect and work with others to "ensure that the mistakes of 2016 aren’t revisited."

"The funny part is, with all of our interests, from politics to sports to art and more, we learned that we didn't have enough time to capture it in 60 minutes once a week. So, we created a podcast and started to work with our friends to expand the network and the message."

"Through this new network, we are hoping that the community stands up as a collective, right away, and not wait for 2020," Brett added. "We have been blessed to bring together several dynamic professionals to talk about what they're doing and how they will mobilize their communities and their networks."

Besides Jamie (JSE, The Navigator) and Brett (Da Don Data), their radio crew also includes Samirya Strong (Essence). Together, they serve in a variety of roles for the radio program, including executive producers, hosts, disc jockeys, engineers, strategists, and social media and public relations specialists. But the list goes on, and includes an impressive group of change-makers.
Hip-Hop music has evolved as a response to social injustice and as an effort to uplift communities. It became the "CNN of the street as well as a method to connect communities in spite of manufactured divides."

The Hip-Hop culture — which includes music, clothing, art, and language — has grown into a global marketing powerhouse and social influencer. It is "power untapped."

"For many within the Hip-Hop culture, the perception is that political and social power is beyond the reach of the communi- ty," and that is a myth the duo, through their collective work, is attempting to dispel. They are also trying to share the message that if Native Americans and communities of color increase their turnout at the polls and work to overcome the (deserved) mistrust of the systems, it could change the outcome for millions of Americans.

"The power of the people will always be stronger than the people in power."

The "public affairs with music" show covers public policy with a splash of political analysis and commentary, civic and social mobilization, and sports and culture commentary. They discuss community-building that includes leadership development as well as events, shows, and programs. Some of the topics have included the role of Hip-Hop in the political game, hijacking Hip-Hop, entrepreneurship and Hip-Hop, the Mueller Report, equity pay, and, of course, the love of Hip-Hop.

In October, Beats, Rhymes and Democracy is partnering with the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul to promote the organization’s "From the Ground Up: A Celebration of Hip Hop Culture." They have scheduled radio interviews with the performers, artists, and organizations involved. The two are also participating in a community discussion called "Hip Hop as a Tool for Education." For more information or tickets, visit www.ordway.org.

"Above and beyond, it's rewarding," said Jamie. And it’s a way to cover a lot of topics that has allowed him to explore another aspect of his personality in a much more vocal and visible way... rather than behind the scenes.

For both men, doing the podcast and the radio programming has been empowering.

"It's coming at a topic of politics and public policy that can be boring to some people, but this breaks it down in bite-sized morsels and uses music, entertainment, and humor to get into some serious topics," Jamie said.