Breaking Free: The Politics of the Hip-Hop Generation


“For decades, the black vote has been synonymous with the Democratic vote, but Keli Goff has written a new book that makes fascinating assertions about the views and loyalties of a younger and politically engaged generation of black Americans,” said Melody Barnes, Executive Vice President for Policy at a Center of American Progress event Wednesday.

The event featured a discussion between Barnes and Keli Goff, author of Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence. The conversation touched on the research presented in the book, and the cultural and political divide between black Americans of the civil rights and hip-hop generations.

The hip-hop generation, (those born between 1965 and 1984), grew up in a political reality very different from their parents’ generation, Goff explained. Unlike older black Americans, for whom the civil rights struggle was a “political touchstone,” this generation is shaped by the emergence of hip hop when “hip hop was about politics; it was about advocacy.”

Yet Goff argues that parents were unimpressed that “Mos Def was talking about Hurricane Katrina.” Goff went on to say that parents of this generation couldn’t relate to the hip-hop experience. That created a generational disconnect that eventually led younger black voters to question their parents’ traditional affiliation with the Democratic party.

Goff’s motivation for writing the book was to examine the “trend among black Americans to become independent voters” after noticing that those in the hip-hop generation—many of whom grew up watching “The Cosby Show” and listening to hip-hop music—felt that the Democratic party was not supporting their values or addressing the real problems facing black communities.

Now that many young black voters are registering as Independents or changing their party affiliation, the black vote could become a prize sought after by both political parties. Goff argued that African-American voters could be “always valued, always relevant, if one third of the black electorate is in play,” a position with immense political power.

The challenge for politicians, the media, and the civil rights generation, is to understand the motivations of the hip-hop generation. Coming of age in an era of hanging chads, super delegates, and eight-hour waits at the polls, the hip-hop generation is skeptical that real political change can occur with a two-party system.

Over the next 10 years, the hip hop generation will continue to redefine their engagement in politics on their terms, even if that independence divides them from their parents, grandparents and the political system as we know it today.