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Politics Unusual: Hip Hop's Hopes for Obama

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First off, for the HuffPost readers who don't know me; I'm the manager behind 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Puffy, Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot. I help them put together their deals with major brands from Vitamin Water to Henkel, Procter & Gamble and many more. I've been privileged enough to see first hand how hip hop has crossed over into the mainstream and become a major voice of politics and culture in this country. I guess you could say that gives me a certain perspective on recent headlines concerning a particular rapper and a presidential hopeful.

For those of you who do know me, it's been a long time since I hit the blog zone so I decided to come back with a bang. This time around, I'm tackling the big stuff: Barack Obama's campaign. I can't sit back and be silent on this subject anymore. As much as I personally support the Senator from Illinois, he needs to do a better job of handling his business in the hip hop community. Specifically, I'm talking about that new Ludacris song, "Politics as Usual," and the Obama campaign's reaction to it, which was way off base.

Don't get me wrong. I'm hoping Obama will be the next president as much as anybody in our community. But Obama needs the youth of America just as much as we perceive we need Obama, if only to avoid a third Bush term via John McCain. (That dude isn't equipped to run a computer, let alone the country.) Obama and his people need to do a better job of understanding this market, where we are coming from, and what we expect from him.

Now Obama camp, please listen carefully to my next few statements, because I'm offering you some free advice:

We the people who are feeling the pinch need your help, but why are you lowering your stature to answer rap records?! Why take offense? No disrespect to Ludacris, but if he wanted to address you, he would have sent you a letter, email, phone call or smoke signal. Let Luda speak to his fans and galvanize them to join the cause in his OWN way. He's not a member of your campaign and he's not even trying to be. He is an artist. Period. Across social, political and philanthropic causes, today's global youth see themselves as possessing the potential to effect enormous change, and impact the world through pop culture. Nothing wrong with that! But it is what it is. Luda is no politician, and even his fans know better than to take him as seriously as you just did.

Meanwhile, don't make the mistake of assuming you've got a lock on our market. Don't rest easy thinking these kids are going to be motivated enough to get out and rock the vote if you don't speak to them directly. The campaign for change has to spread the money around and make sure that message reaches all four corners.

Yeah, it's great you bought airtime during the Olympics. But on 8/8/08 no one was watching, because the ad for Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, drowned you out. From a marketing perspective, that was money misspent. You need to cut through the noise and target your audience. Don't forget to get up and speak to hip hop. Spend your advertising dollars on BET and MTV's TRL and other urban media outlets that can spread your message to the youth. Continue to inspire change.

But this is key: Don't lower yourself to speak to rappers! Just because you are African-American, don't allow the press to make you step down from the plate of being one of the most powerful men in the world to address a comment from a rapper, no matter how great he or she is. If the Dixie Chicks stand up and attack McCain, the press already knows it's almost worthless to ask him about it. He wouldn't have a clue who they are and, in the end, and he wouldn't care about what they said because he is applying for the job of the most powerful man in the world. He knows it's politics as usual.

Senator Obama, this applies to you too. Don't let the press lower your stature because of your color. We know that we in the world of hip hop music can be a liability, but we still expect you to act accordingly when you are empowered. Make a change. Don't tell us how we should watch our lyrics every time the press tries to attack rap music. You already stated your position.

Instead, address how we are going to get the troops out of Iraq, the gas prices down, and how people with sub prime mortgages can keep a roof over their heads. Don't waste time on lyrics from a rapper! There's plenty more where that came from. Artists in their enthusiasm for your campaign are gonna come up with more songs, and the lyrics might just be even more offensive to people than Luda's were. Ignore them! We already know you're cool; we understand that you have to play the rigid figure against our rhymes. So fly above it all. Keep your eyes on the prize and work steadfastly to beat McCain.

This is probably one of the most important and active elections for people of color to date. So much is on the line it's almost insane we are allowing someone like McCain even a chance to be elected. In my business, we watch companies like Sony/BMG make great creative individuals like Clive Davis step down because of his age. But he is running a creative company, not the country! How is it that McCain is even capable of having the opportunity to be elected at 72? How can we allow this?

Maybe America should take a page out of the corporate playbook and say there comes a point when age is a factor. When Steve Jobs is rumored to be sick, Apple's stock takes a hit because he is Apple. If we expect so much from our corporate leaders, if we hold them to such high standards, why would we let McCain up to bat? America is the home of the brave because we'd have to be brave, or crazy, if we are going to put our faith in a guy who can't turn on a computer and admits it.

Senator Obama, don't slip up now. Be true to yourself and stick to the high road. Don't let our country's fate, and the future of kids black or white, who feel empowered for the first time in their lives, fall into the hands of a clueless old man. Forget about Luda and stay on the path to the White House. Don't allow this year's election to become politics as usual.

Chris Lighty is the 36-year-old CEO of Violator Records/Management

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