Monday, August 18th, 2008

Scenes From An Uprising? Part 1

On Saturday at the Rock The Bells festival in the Bay Area, 20,000 middle fingers were raised against Fox News.

“They are the past. We are the future,” Nas shouted from center stage, before dropping the beat from “Black President”. “We can change the world.”

Hip-hop gatherings seem lately to have been taking on the feel of political rallies or cadre discussions. Could it be that there’s a new wind blowing?

At the Ozone Awards, Davey D asked an artist panel what their role might be in the upcoming elections. Rather than shrug, as rappers have often done in the past, Killer Mike responded like a seasoned strategist, outlining the moment in the context of a history of Black politics. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

Backstage at Rock The Bells, folks like De La Soul, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique had a lot to say about politics, but so did folks like Redman, Wu-Tang producer Mathematics and rapper Streetlife, and many others. They talked about whether or not to vote, and whether, as YZ once put it, a Black President might be the solution or just another question.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Method Man laughed. “And ever since I’ve been doing this, there hasn’t been this many questions about the election. Nobody has ever asked me that until Obama started running.”

On the grounds at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, hundreds of kids in colorful Obama shirts roamed through the crowd. One kid wore a black tee that altered De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” logo into a statement: “Gas Is High”.

Rock The Bells promoter Chang Weisberg said the tenor of the festival had changed since last year. “People are not happy with gas prices, they’re not happy with the mortgage crisis, they’re not happy with their life in general,” he said.

When the festival comes to Denver next week to informally open the Democratic Convention week there, it will signal the arrival of a number of hip-hop artists the likes of which no political convention has ever seen in this country.

Aside from the RTB lineup, folks like Bun B, The Coup, Rage Against The Machine, Rebel Diaz, Blue Scholars, Wyclef, John Legend, and the Black Eyed Peas will be in town. Celebs like Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson will also be on hand.

Some will come to participate in the Convention, some to protest it, some to party with the party, some to party in spite of the party—most to witness the history they might finally feel like they have a hand in making.

Silhouetted against the sunset on Saturday, Nas looked out into the crowd and said, “I don’t believe in politicians or none of that. I believe in the people.”

And the people roared.

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