Bigger than Hip-Hop
July 7, 2006
An Interview with TJ Crawford of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, Part 1
Later this month, from July 21st through the 23rd, the 2nd National Hip-Hop Political Convention gets underway in Chicago. The first convention, held in Newark two years ago, created much excitement amongst hip-hop activists. Hip-hop activists hoped to mobilize their generation's equivalent to the 1972 National Black Political Assembly in Gary, Indiana, an historic event of the Black Power generation. Thousands from across the country sent their Local Organizing Committees to set the first ever National Hip-Hop Political Agenda.
Here we speak with T.J. Crawford, the Chair of the Host Committee for the 2006 Convention. Known as Theoretic the MC, Crawford is recognized as a one of the 10 most influential people in hip-hop and politics. He was an organizer for Atlanta's renowned Youth Task Force, and founded the Chicago Hip-Hop Political Action Committee. As he prepares for the Convention in Chicago, we spoke to him about the impact of the 2004 Convention on the politics of the hip-hop generation.
Jeff Chang: What made the 2004 National Hip-Hop Political Convention so historic?
T.J. Crawford: I think the 2004 NHHPC was a historic event because, for our generation, something like this had never been done before. Hundreds of people from differing cities and states came together to develop a national agenda that actually came from the bottom up versus the normal top down approach. Nobody sat up and legislated what would be the main areas of focus for the entire country, but instead you had local communities identifying what they found common amongst each other, and then we developed the national agenda using the locals as a base. That's powerful.
And beyond that, you had some of the best organizers, activists and academicians in the country, along with some of America's most committed and community involved young adults, mostly of color, sitting together in one place, smashing through issues, with the specific intent of getting something accomplished...of building an apparatus and preparing themselves to exercise power. The energy that you get from something like that is indescribable, and it has spawned national relationships and organizational partnerships that are continuing to this day. The web of hip-hop activism, a combination of the culture, grassroots and electoral politics, continues to grow and gain strength. It has already caught hold with so many people. I look forward to growing with it.
Jeff Chang: In the wake of the convention, how have you seen organizations like your own and similar ones across the country used hip-hop to change their communities?
T.J. Crawford: From a cultural perspective, there are countless names and organizations that we could run down that are literally saving young people's lives through after school and Saturday programs that feature hip-hop in the dance, video, film, music production, spoken word, graff and mural projects. There are thousands of people out there that are meeting kids right where they're at, giving them a harsh look at reality, while also introducing them to the power that they hold within themselves.
The expressive part of hip-hop culture, without the violence, and with knowledge of self, is the most empowering thing moving today. Not because of anything unique to hip-hop, but because hip-hop, in my eyes, is a combination and continuation of all indigenous art forms and learning pathologies that have come before. So it's like the best of all worlds finding a home in the five elements.
Now, politically speaking, I think we're still working to find our groove. I mean, you've got projects such as Biko Baker and the Campaign Against Violence in Milwaukee, and Khari Mosley and the League of Young Voters work out in Pittsburgh. You've got Troy Nkrumah and cats in Las Vegas moving against the anti-hip-hop ordinance and you've got more organizations than you can name that have shown tremendous support for the victims of Katrina, but as a generation, I think we're just getting to the point of being serious about institution building, to the point that we can change the institutions that run this country.
People like Alisha Thomas Morgan in Georgia and Ras Baraka are working to make waves on the elected side, but we're still working to get the hip-hop community to see itself as an electoral base that can move things, right here, right now. And that will only come with institution building, which is one of the things that this year's convention hopes to support.
Join us for Part 2 of the interview with T.J. Crawford on the National Hip-Hop Political Convention next week.