Perhaps no one on the hip-hop scene is more lauded for raising the level of social consciousness in the music more than Lupe Fiasco. Songs like “All Black Everything” and his latest hit, “Bitch Bad” — which attacks misogyny in the modern-day culture — have made much of his discography something like an inner-city gospel. He’s a source of untethered pride for many Chicago hip-hop junkies, myself included.
So it really stings to hear him talk about his nonvoter position. He’s brought the issue up from time to time, in interviews and in his music. But maybe his outright refusal to vote was seen as less of flaw in years less consequential as the one we’re in now, where the fate of the nation may lie in the balance between two distinct candidates.
In September Lupe made spur-of-the-moment appearance in Philadelphia at a Rap Sessions public forum titled “Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama/Tea Party Era.” He was there to address the charges of “political apathy” lobbed at him by comedian D. L. Hughley. The rapper countered by arguing that he’s simply a nonvoter, because in his mind, getting involved in the community goes much further than simply casting a ballot every two years.
It was during a Twitter back-and-forth between the two men that Lupe challenged Hughley to match him dollar for dollar in funding an inner-city program.
“Taking our community back is not going to happen without money,” Lupe said concerning the talk he had with Hughley. “We don’t have to wait til November. We don’t have to wait to vote. Let’s put up $50,000 each right now.”
According to the rapper, Hughley never responded to the offer.
I first learned of Lupe’s nonvoter attitude last year while listening to a conversation he had with the esteemed Dr. Cornel West. Lupe openly admitted to never having voted, and he seemed to wear his nonvoterism like a badge of honor. I understood his motives then, having a little less faith in the American system of self-government as I do now. Plus, in Lupe’s show of defiance I heard echoes of such satirist and misanthropes as comedian George Carlin, a personal hero of mine and someone who viewed elections as a false sense of choice, and thus, and utter waste of time.
Lupe has a point. The changes we want to see in our communities are “not going to happen without money.”
But what can we, the average Americans with little or no money, do to help improve our communities? We can vote. So to say that money is the only type of agency in America is ignorant – forgive me, Lupe.
It hasn’t even been established that money is the greatest form of power in this country. Sure, money buys influence in Congress, in the White House, and in governor’s mansions and state legislatures from Albany to Sacramento. But you know what drives an elected official more than money? Their own sense of survival. At the end of the day, they want to survive the next election.
And do you know what mighty corporation elects these so-called puppets of profit? The American people. Government officials are your representatives.
Because everything and everybody in government is ultimately subject to a vote, money can only influence government, but it can never buy a piece of it. Money influences government to do one thing — block this bill in the Senate or veto that bill — and it influences the American people to do another thing — turn a blind eye to corruption. When you ignore what your government is doing, when you refuse to have a say in what it does or doesn’t do, then you give the monied interests full reign over what was always yours to begin with, the government.
In his song “Words I Never Said,” Lupe seems to predict criticisms like mine: “That’s why I ain’t vote for him [Obama], next one either/ I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful.”
Here, Lupe’s right again. His peacefulness is “part of the problem.”
Voting, by its very nature, is a violent political act. It’s a violence committed against government, and Lupe, in his insistence on being “peaceful,” also refuses to commit violence that is supreme right as a citizen to commit.
Like many nonvoters, Lupe also justifies his “critique” of government by claiming that, since he doesn’t vote, he’s given license to attack the policies he had no part in authorizing.
But the inherent flaw in such an argument should strike anyone who considers it for more than a minute. By purposely not voting, by consciously removing yourself from political society, how can you then, well into an administration or legislative term, criticize and condemn the same government that voters decided on while you were busy not voting?
In the end, Lupe apparently doesn’t find too much fault in the American government and its policies — his music is sold to an American audience, for which he’s paid in American dollars, and his taxes help pay for the government operations he so adamantly opposes.
Lupe admittedly understands this, but sees nothing wrong in it. The government can have my money, he says, but not my vote.
Not voting only hurts yourself, Lupe. The government will happily get by with your money.