Obama on Hip Hop and the Role of Art in Social Movements

I heard this quote sampled on WPFW, the local Pacifica station, last night during the Soul Controllers hip-hop show. It’s from a 2008 interview that then-Senator Obama gave on Black Entertainment Television.

“I love the art of hip-hop; I don’t always love the message of hip-hop. There are times where even . . . with the artists I love, you know, there’s a message that is not only sometimes degrading to women; not only uses the N-word a little too frequently; but — also something I’m really concerned about — it’s always talking about material things. Always talking about how I can get something. … The thing about hip hop today is that it’s smart. It’s insightful. The way that they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.

A lot of these kids are not going to be reading The New York Times. That’s not how they are getting their information. So the question then is what’s the content, what’s the message? I understand that folk want to be rooted in the community, they want to be ‘down.’ But what I always say is that hip hop is not just a mirror of what is, it should also be a reflection of what can be. A lot of time folks say ‘I want to keep it real’ and ‘I want to be down.’ Then we’re just attracting what is. Imagine something different. Imagine communities that are not torn up by violence. Imagine communities where we are respecting women. Imagine communities where knowledge, and reading, and academic excellence are valued. Imagine communities where fathers are doing right by their kids. That’s also something that has to be reflected. Art can’t just be a rear view mirror. It should have a headlight out there pointing to where we need to go.”–President “B-Rock” Obama

Watch the video here.