The Coming Revolution

davey dWith his deep voice and fluid delivery, Davey D is an instantly recognizable voice on the radio. He is a hip-hop historian, a journalist, a DJ and an activist, among other things. Raised in a household that encouraged political involvement, Davey D came to California from the Bronx to attend U.C. Berkeley and never looked back. He has been a Bay Area radio staple ever since, representing a generation of young listeners whose political views are often marginalized in mainstream media. He is currently Webmaster of Davey D's Hip Hop Corner ( and the host of Hard Knock Radio on KPFA in Berkeley.

WireTap: How old were you when you first voted?

Davey D:
I was 18. I mean, my first official election. I voted a lot more when I was younger for school elections. Voting was something that was taught to me in the house. You know, my mom would put us through various exercises just to deal with the concept of voting.

WT: What do you think can be done to motivate those least likely to vote?

I think the most important thing you have to consider when getting people to vote is that it's part of a bigger strategy to turn things around or move things in a particular direction. In a lot of circles, political discussion is often looked down upon or made fun of or you hear people make ridiculous assertions, like some people might say you're trying to be white or some people might say, "That's old folks' stuff." I've always been taught that to not be political is political. So with my work in media, on radio, in writing, I've always tried to introduce political issues as if they were a part of normal, everyday conversation. I wouldn't say, "Well, we're going to have a political discussion today." I would make it part of the fabric of whatever I am talking about.

Today we're conditioned to gossip a lot. When I was younger, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck wouldn't have been this interesting. And now it can be the lead story on your evening news. People wanna know who slept with who and why and what the dirty details were. I try to treat political issues -- especially when dealing with politicians -- the same way.

The other thing I make a point of doing with my radio show is going after the key newsmakers so people can hear directly from them. And then, when I have those newsmakers, I don't let them [have] a free pass. When I have an elected official on and I ask a question and they give me some roundabout answer, I'm usually gonna stop them and ask them to really break it down. And I'm going to explain to them that most of the people in the audience do not understand this jargon that you're using. In other words, don't go on my show where I'm reaching 18- to-34-year-olds and start talking about retirement benefits.

WT: Lots of people have been talking about the hip-hop vote. All of a sudden, there are all these hip-hop voting events… I know Russell Simmons had one and there's one this June [the National Hip Hop Convention, June 16-19, in Newark, New Jersey]. I want to hear your opinion on their legitimacy, on their potential for change.

In the African-American community, and maybe in the Latino community, maybe various others, the majority of people are under 30. And 18 to 34-year-olds, in media circles, are one of the most desirable demographics. Everything from radio to television is centered around whatever tactics and approaches are going to be needed to reach that audience, the hip-hop generation, so when you put that together, you have people going, "We got to get the hip-hop vote."

I think folks have keyed in on the fact that hip-hop aesthetics have resonated with folks all around the globe and the styles, the fashions, the mannerisms are often imitated. Or, [if they can] get people to buy certain styles of clothes or wear their clothing a certain way, maybe we can harness that same influence and maybe get them to vote a certain way.

Elected officials are finally coming to the table. They've got to reach this audience and they need to find out a quick and easy way to do it. People like Russell are looking at this as well and saying, "Hey, I can see the potential of this audience for bringing about change. And I'm going to use my influence and resources to get involved." Russell has been taking the tactic of normalizing politics so that if 50 Cent can talk about it and Ja Rule can talk about it and P. Diddy can talk about it, then the average person on the street should not have these apprehensions about talking about it as well. And more importantly, engaging within it.

I think Russell has done a good job by bringing these issues to the forefront. He often gets criticized because some of his politics seem to be right of center. My thing to folks who criticize the fact that he may overshadow an issue or he doesn't uphold the [most] progressive values. [is] then you get your butt to where he's at and you bring your pen and pad and you bring your information and you try and engage folks. If 20,000 people showed up in Houston last weekend for a hip-hop summit, my question for any activist in that area is, where were you that day? Did you bring your brochures and take advantage of the fact he got 20,000 people in the arena to talk about politics, something that most of us can only dream of?

On the flip side, there's the National Hip-Hop Convention, which has been put together by folks who are a little more grassroots than Russell and some of those folks have a little more experience in running campaigns or running for office. I think they are actually filling in the gaps that Russell overlooked. They are doing the hard work of getting local organizing committees together and setting up an infrastructure so that when it comes time for the hip-hop community to put forth agendas and to have a unified voice, there is a mechanism and a process, not just one or two people speaking, but a political process. You have to learn how to engage the key decision-makers so you can get the right compromises down so you know how to ally yourself correctly and you can yield your influence in certain circles.

WT: Do you see yourself as a role model to young people out there?

I think anytime you're in a position of visibility, you're a role model, whether you like it or not. A lot of folks are in key positions on either radio or television and they never talk about anything political, never somehow try to slip in some information and push the envelope a little. They won't quiz the artist on their political involvement. So at the end of the day they don't really offer that as some sort of guidance.

WT: For young people who are going to vote for the first time in November, what would you say to motivate them or to make them feel like it's a good thing to do?

We should go to the polls and look at these people who are running for office and say, "Who do we want to fire today, and who do we want to hire?" It makes all the difference in the world. You're going to be impacted by the game of politics whether or not you vote. Not voting is a political strategy supported by those who wanna stay in power to keep you from being involved with politics, where you can impact them.

WT: Anything else you want to say?

We're at an interesting crossroads. Those who are in power are at a point where they realize they have to do a lot more dancing with the younger generation they've ignored the last couple of decades. You're going to see a lot of super marketing strategies used by elected officials: hip-hop beats, house music beats in the background, nice little flyers, sometimes without a whole lot of substance. A lot of folks who are in a position to decide what course this country is going to take. I don't know how to stress to folks that they're at an important junction in history. They're going to have to seize the moment and try to make a difference and try to have an impact. Otherwise the damage will take years and potentially decades to undo.

Hear more from Davey D. at:

Arturo Perez is a California resident who enjoys all sorts of things like eating, music, and traveling. His work has appeared on WireTap and in Silicon Valley DeBug.

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