Rap the vote

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

The National Voting Rights Museum is taking a unique approach to getting young people registered to vote.

It is encouraging them to listen to rap music. The messages in the songs featured in the Rap the Vote contest are very upfront.

People, especially those eligible to cast ballots for the first time, are met with lyrics that tout the power of a single vote and the need to explore the history of voting rights struggles.

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For the organizers of the contest, the method in which to deliver the message became easily evident.

“I’ve been in the desert in Timbuktu and had children say to me Tupac,” said Malika Sanders-Fortier. “We couldn’t even speak the same language, but they could say Tupac, and they knew I would know what they meant.”

The late rapper Tupac Shakur, Fortier said, was representative of the universal language that youth of the current generation speak.

Contestants in Rap the Vote have all produced rap songs that center on the theme of registering and then getting out to the polls during the Nov. 4 presidential election.

The songs are currently playing on local radio stations, and music from the artists is available on a free CD or by visiting www.nationalvotingrightsmuseum.org.

Listeners can vote for the artists they like best on the Voting Rights Museum’s Web site or by text messaging their choices to 334-407-0577. The winning artist will receive a $5,000 prize to be given away Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at a concert at School of Discovery. Street teams that register the most voters can win $1,000 dollars in additional prizes.

Everyone who votes is automatically entered into a contest for a 42-inch flat screen TV, but they must be registered voters for the upcoming election. Contest officials will verify each person’s status as a qualified voter.

All the competing artists are also registered voters.

With themes that often touch on violent or sexually explicit subjects, rap and hip hop music — and the people who create it — take heavy criticism.

But contest organizer and local attorney Rose Sanders said the perceived lack of guidance shows fault on both sides of the generational gap.

“We have to tap into the interest of young people,” Sanders said. “They are just as interesting as they were 40 years ago. The myth is that somehow this generation is lost. No, we’re the ones that lost our children because we stopped teaching them the vision. We stopped telling them the stories. The rap music that they create reflects their reality.”

Terrance “Go-T” Craig, a Selma native who now resides in Montgomery, was trying to alert people about the importance of voting before he heard about the contest.

His entry in Rap the Vote is simply titled and direct — “Vote.”

“Actually, I wrote the song for the radio stations just for the people, not to enter,” Craig said. “But when I brought it down here, they brought the contest to my attention. I just want to be one of the people that helps our young people get out there and vote.”