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Amplifying Voices: Hip Hop Artists Use Their Platforms to Incite Change

Over the years, hip hop has experienced a lot of growth in the broader Athens music scene, but it has also established an increasingly stronger presence in local politics. Amidst protests against police brutality and racial inequality, it’s not surprising that hip hop artists are using their various platforms to elevate the community’s voices.

Many members of the hip hop community, including Caulfield (Curtison Jones), were present at the initial Athens protest that took an unexpected turn. After relaying his experience on social media and encouraging the rest of the scene to come together, Jay Rodgers of Full Moon Studio in Watkinsville, decided to volunteer his services as a vehicle for the local hip hop scene. The result was Athens GA Hiphop In Solidarity’s album Playlist For A Protest, which features 24 original tracks by local artists including Kxng Blanco, Foreign, Rubi Fyre, Keefie, YOD and Vision da Poet.

“Us as artists, a lot of us here don’t have a lot of influence or pull more than our platform, so it just seemed like the perfect idea,” says Caulfield. “I think that Mariah [Parker] is the perfect example. We have a close-knit community, and having someone who’s actually a part of the hip hop community in office is really dope. It’s a unique situation.”

On Caulfield’s featured track, he joined forces with well-known artist Elite Tha Showstoppa (Darrin Ellison) for a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s politically-charged “Bulls on Parade.” The idea of “rally ‘round the family” connected to bringing out the music scene for Caulfield, but this track only represents half of his perspective.

“I don’t want that to be the only message that I put out there, you know, angry. I don’t want violence, so I’m actually putting out another song in a couple weeks that’s more about bringing people together,” says Caulfield.

In addition to the “Bulls on Parade” track, Elite collaborated with other Athens hip hop trailblazers, such as Ishues and Duddy Ken, and even shared the studio with several family members. After a hiatus from the Athens scene, Elite enjoyed coming together with like-minded people to share in the communal, creative energy.

“One part for me that was great was just the positivity of love and respect for one another, being able to come together and make our aggressions be known collectively. To have a stronger impact as opposed to just voicing my own opinion,” says Elite.

The history of hip hop has always been tied to politics, and the local community has proven that these ties are just as powerful today. Playlist For A Protest is designed to be a digital extension of the protests happening in-person as people continue to experience the threat of COVID-19. 

“Music in general has always been a platform of information regarding awareness, everything from police brutality to prejudices of several different types,” says Elite. “A lot of songs are made from an oppressed situation. A long time ago when I was a kid, a lot of hip hop was our news.”

Hip hop has long been a channel for bringing information to the culture and creating solutions. Athens hip hop legend Duddy Ken wants to see further community involvement between law enforcement and the people, to create unity and opportunities.

“Music is really the only way I know how to express myself, not a big talker,” says Duddy Ken. “We use politics in hip hop to speak and bring awareness to certain social issues and to encourage people to vote. Hip hop is a good vessel for politics to reach the culture.”

Copyright 2020 Whitley Carpenter, Caulfield and Elite Tha Showstoppa at Full Moon Studio. Photo by Whitley Carpenter.

Hosted by Linqua Franqa (Mariah Parker) and Dope Knife (Kedrick Mack), the newly launched iHeartRadio-platformed podcast Waiting on Reparations” is just that: a vessel for hip hop and politics. It brings together hip hop listeners and people interested in policy to further understand what the community has to say and how they are affected by policy.

“When people ask me how I got my start in politics, I always go back to Hot Corner Hip Hop and organizing those first couple of hip hop shows, because a lot of those skills for putting together shows are the same kind of skills that I use now to organize the car caravan we had downtown last night,” says Parker. “I was hearing stories from people like Squalle and D.K. and L.G. and Caulfield and realizing all this messed up stuff and problems people have—we’re not going to solve it by having a hip hop show. It’s an important part of it, but if there’s nobody in City Hall listening to these stories, and taking these stories seriously, and trying to change the conditions people are living under, then we’re going to be stuck complaining about this forever.”

“Waiting on Reparations” co-host Mack is using his artistic skills to express himself, in addition to music and the podcast. Gerry Conway, the co-creator of The Punisher, created a campaign to reclaim the comic book character’s logo from law enforcement by having people of color redesign the logo. Mack enthusiastically took part in this project involving his favorite comic book character. 

Podcasting as a platform has proven to be a learning experience for the hosts just as much as the audience. Exploring hip hop culture through the lens of politics has been eye-opening for Mack, and he hopes that the podcast will continue to grow and spread awareness. The hip hop community’s voices carry a lot of perspective from personal experience.

“Politics is life, at the end of the day,” says Mack. “Everything kind of has a nugget of political insight that you can take from it.”