Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Pens Hip-Hop 50 Essay For ‘African Voices’ Magazine
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries penned an ode to hip-hop to celebrate the art form's 50th anniversary.
In 2021, Congress voted to make November the official month to celebrate hip-hop. Resolution 331, was co-sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). It passed through the Senate under Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) direction.
Two years later, as hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, Jeffries, the House Minority Leader and leader of the House Democratic Caucus, was one of 63 public figures to pen poetry, fiction and essays for African Voices magazine’s “Hip Hop At 50” issue released last month.
The Source captured Jeffries’ full open letter, which started with the iconic opening of The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic, “Juicy.”
“It was all a dream. I used to read Word Up! magazine. Salt’n’Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine. Hangin’ pictures on my wall. Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl,” he wrote.
The Crown Heights native shared highlights from his upbringing in Central Brooklyn in the mid to late 1980s that included watching Kool DJ Red Alert’s Rap Attack and Video Music Box with VJ Ralph McDaniels.
“It was through these venues that we were first exposed to the latest artists, including the rise of LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim, KRS-One, MC Lyte, NWA and EPMD,” Jeffries shared. “After hearing new records, we couldn’t wait to talk about the compelling music we were just exposed to during homeroom or in the cafeteria the next day.”
The politician revealed his early career dreams included becoming a hip-hop superstar under his moniker “Kid Fresh” or playing for the New York Knicks.
“Neither of these worked out,” he admitted. “Nevertheless, I still fondly remember my highest profile rap battle against a classmate named Sam, right in front of Midwood High School after the last bell. While memories are hazy, one of my boys seems to recall that I won the showdown on points.”
Jeffries continued, “Music is a soundtrack for our lives, none more compelling for me than Hip Hop. To this day, it allows me to mark and reflect upon different parts of my life based on the records that were banging at the time.”
He recalled some notable moments in hip-hop that carried him through his school years.
“MC Run could do no wrong upon hearing Sucker MCs as a pre-teen. The BDP conflict with MC Chan captivated us in High School. When A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” featuring Busta Rhymes was played during a Kappa party at College In The Woods up at Binghamton, the crowd went wild,” Jeffries wrote. “And my eventual graduate school roommate while I was at Georgetown, Adrian Fenty, introduced me to Dr. Dre’s classic album The Chronic.
He credited rap legends like Dre, Snoop, Ice Cube, and Wu-Tang Clan for helping to change the landscape of the art form forever. As he grew up, Jeffries stayed in tune with conversations around hip-hop that filled the room.
“When the Notorious B.I.G. dropped “Who Shot Ya” during my first year of law school, it lit up the parties hosted by aspiring Black lawyers at NYU and Columbia,” he shared. “We studied Supreme Court case law during the week, and listened to Bad Boy, Tupac and Jay-Z on the weekend. As a young lawyer in Manhattan in the early 2000s, we debated the back and forth between “Takeover” and “Ether,” admiring the sophisticated wordplay of both songs.”
He credited those songs, along with Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.”, Tupac’s “Against All Odds” and 50 Cent’s “Back Down,” for serving as anthems throughout his life and political career.
“When declaring victory during my first congressional race in June 2012, “Empire State of Mind” was blaring in the background. Yeah, I’m out that Brooklyn,” he added.
The essay continueed with nods to his sons, who keep Jeffries updated on the current trends in hip-hop and the genre’s continued evolution. He’s taken his love for rap music to the halls of Congress.
“Six years ago, on March 9, 2017, I decided to go to the House Floor to deliver a tribute to the Notorious B.I.G. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his tragic death. When I told the staff of my plan, one of them responded: “You can’t do that!’” he recalled.
“So I asked the team to check the congressional record and validate my suspicion that other prominent artists like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen had been acknowledged on the House Floor by Members of Congress in the past. About an hour later, a staff member confirmed that all three had received multiple congressional tributes. I responded: “Great. Christopher Wallace is about to get one as well.’”
The Constitution’s promise to uphold the hopes and dreams of the American people has been what Jeffries has kept in mind when finding ways to incorporate hip-hop into his political work.
“That has meant authentically bringing to Washington all that Hip Hop music has represented for the communities I am privileged to serve,” he concluded. “During this challenging time in America, House Democrats will continue to fight For the People. And I will continue to do my best to always represent for the culture.”
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