The Story of A.D.

The Reduction of the Multidimensionality of the Black Public Figure

Like politics, Hip Hop is deeply connected to the social world that we live in. In fact, it was Aristotle’s assertion in Poetics that poets were the truth tellers of the land. This is because poets have the ability to think critically, examine the human condition, and repackage their message into a digestible format. Since then, storytelling has evolved and branched off into a number of different facets of entertainment such as literature, television, and movies. A place where poetry found its home early was within music, the most regularly consumed art form. Music today is created mostly with the intention to entertain. However, throughout all of the genres and styles that have evolved out of world cultural movements, Hip Hop is still one of the major genres of that concretely speaks to the human condition. Considering this is one of the major attributes of the genre, it has been able to ignite actual social change such as the Jasmine Revolution and carry a cultural conversation across the world.

Antonio Delgado is a current candidate for United States Congress in New York’s 19th Congressional District. His résumé begins with a B.A. with high honors from Colgate University in Hamilton New York. From Colgate, he accepted the prestigious and extremely competitive Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University. Post Oxford, he graduated from the world renowned Harvard Law School. Since his career as a student, he has worked as an attorney in New York City. Although this is a man who’s more than qualified and has the credentials for political office, he’s being met with major resistance from the Republican opposition. The source of this resistance from his opposition stems from Antonio Delgado’s history of using Hip Hop music as an outlet of expression to vet his frustration with numerous political topics.

Since the genres early beginnings, Hip Hop has matured and evolved into a movement that encourages knowledge production, social identification, and political mobilization. Its rebellious attitude contests conventional aesthetics, ways of thought, and musical style which breeds creativity and innovation. The Hip Hop community is a international, transnational, multiracial, multilingual community and has control over 25% of the worlds music market as of 2017. The Hip Hop community is what international studies scholar, Benedict Anderson calls, an “imagined community.” It’s not a physical community in political terms, but a socially constructed community imagined by people who perceive themselves as part of that group. This idea of imagined community creates blurred lines of membership, but also opens the door for many different people to align with the movement which in turn pushes the culture forward. Its loose boundaries empower youth across all socioeconomic backgrounds to be themselves unapologetically and become artists in their own right without needing validation by commercial and mainstream success. Hip Hop in its purest form is about free, open, honest dialogue and has been connected to numerous social movements world wide.

Delgado’s album, made under the moniker of A.D. the Voice, dives into the way minorities are treated in America and combat’s the prevalent idea of white supremacy. These politically driven series of songs were created in 2007 while Delgado operated Statik Entertainment, an entertainment company that that focused on music as an alternative form of political activism. Since the beginnings of his campaign for Congress, Delgado’s preferred way of creative expression is being used as ammunition against him by his main opponent, U.S. Representative, John Faso. Faso says,

“Mr. Delgado’s lyrics are offensive, troubling and inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America.”

In regard to Delgado’s campaign, political scientist form Upstate New York, Gerald Benjamin said,

“Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?”

Statistically, we’re at a time in history where Hip Hop accounts for a quarter of the global music market so these statements have no validity or basis. It’s not the music that these particular self righteous Republican’s have a problem with, it’s the revolutionary and unconventional characteristics that Hip Hop as a genre has. It’s a genre of music created by a culture that isn’t afraid to go against the norm, stand up for what it believes in, and stays loyal to its truth as they know it. This attitude is a threat to the establishment and those comfortable in their power. Hip Hop has real influence and political power because it gives a voice and platform to those who would otherwise be suppressed and voiceless. This threatens those who make decisions fueled by their self interest. The kind of person who’s willing to recognize and criticize problems in America and express that to the world instead of falling in line and not thinking for himself is someone worthy of power and influence.

The resistance against Antonio Delgado to achieve actual political power in Congress is comparable to the resistance that black athletes face when expressing their political views. America has a history of trying to strip the multidimensionality of the black public figure and reduce them to one aspect of their character. In the 1960’s, The legendary athlete, Muhammad Ali, was a ubiquitous public figure who faced serious consequences for expressing his politics. In this turbulent decade, his career took a hit because of his refusal to abide by the draft and serve in the Vietnam War. Ali said in 1967,

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights.”

This case captured mass attention and he was sentenced to five years in prison, fined ten thousand dollars, banned from boxing for three years, and stripped of his heavyweight title. Although he was the face of the sport and was able to stay out of jail due to an appeal, boxing officials still punished him for his controversial opinion. Editors of the New York Times refused to print his name, his hometown Courier-Journal ran an editorial claiming he “lacked the dignity to be a champion.” Also, in 1966 The Ring magazine refused to appoint him “Fighter of the Year” because it did not want Ali “held up as an example to the youngsters of America.” When black entertainers play their sport, play their acting role, or perform their show it’s met with little resistance because it’s perceived as what their supposed to do. However, when these same public figures use their influence to transition to exercise political power, it’s often labeled controversial, problematic, and unworthy to have influence in public discourse.

In a February 2018 ESPN interview, Lebron James, encountered similar but far less consequential scrutiny from right wing media about his comments on the United States political atmosphere under President Trump. During the interview, when asked about President Trump, Lebron states, “The number one job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people.” This comment was attacked by Fox News columnist Laura Ingraham, where she said this in response:

“It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.”

This epitomizes the reduction of the black public figure from being a complete human being with thoughts and opinions that range across multiple spectrums, to just a man who’s supposed to dribble a basketball. This lack of respect for his opinion was met by the President as well. President Trump, who also called NFL Player’s who peacefully protest against the anthem “Son’s of bitches”, exemplifies a shift in attitudes when black entertainers enter the political realm.

Summer 2013
Summer 2018

Hip Hop in its purest form isn’t explicitly revolutionary. It’s only perceived that way because it allows for those who are oppressed, marginalized, and deemed unimportant by society to have a vessel and a stage to speak their truth and life as they know it. This is a threat and intimidates the power of those in power who benefit from the oppression of others especially in a political structure that requires a degree of hardship and suffering. Hip Hop symbolizes new ways of thinking and a shared togetherness in struggle that’s deemed radical as shown by the attack on Antonio Delgado. His form of expression isn’t respected in politics as Lebron James, Muhammed Ali’s way of expression isn’t respected by right wing media and politicians. In history, the struggles of people of color haven’t been met with a degree of empathy by those with true power and influence. It’s important to have a climate of open and free dialogue for all people to express how they feel without fear of harassment, ridicule, and ostracism. That is a truly free society.

Baraka Wilson — baraka.wilson@rutgers.edu