Kanye West‘s name is the one that pops up when it comes to any conversation about rappers and politics. But he’s far from the first MC who has thought about, or pursued, the unlikley crossover between the stage and the stump. And though Kanye recently doubled down on his claim that he’s running for president in 2024, plenty of other rappers have dipped their toes into the political pool over the past few years.
While West told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe on Oct. 24 that “there will be a time when I will be president of the U.S.,” Geto Boys member Scarface forced a run-off in Tuesday’s election for Houston City Council in District D, where the winner in the race between the “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta” MC and Carolyn Evans-Shabazz will replace Councilman Dwight Boykins.
Check out seven artists who have tested the political waters in recent years.
On June 8, former Geto Boys member Scarface (born Brad Jordan) announced on his Instagram that he was “offering myself for service as the next Houston City Councilmember for District D.” On Nov. 6, general election results determined that a runoff would be necessary between him and Shabazz, as she received 17 percent of the vote and he 15 percent among 16 total candidates. The position was made available when sitting District D councilman Dwight Boykins declared he would run for mayor.
I briefly talked to Brad “Scarface” Jordan (@BrotherMob) about his campaign for Houston city council – which forced a runoff last night.
“This is unbelievable bro. Im just as shocked as you are,” he said before telling me he was eating lunch and would call back.
I love my job.
— Robert Downen (@RobDownenChron) November 6, 2019
The Geto Boys member has not used his stage name during his campaign, going by his birth name, and days after the Houston native announced his intention to run, according to Orion Donovan-Smith of the Washington Post, Jordan expanded on why he opted to ditch his famous moniker: “Scarface is dead,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to be a 75-year-old rapper. I’m going to be finishing my last term in office as president when I’m 75.”
Alongside Willie D and the late Bushwick Bill, the Geto Boys charted three times on the Billboard Hot 100 in the early 1990s: “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (peaked at No. 22 on Nov. 1, 1992), “Six Feet Deep” (peaked at No. 40 on June 12, 1993) and “The World Is a Ghetto” (peaked at No. 82 on May 11, 1996).
As a politician, Jordan has returned to the South Acres neighborhood he grew up in in an effort to make it safer, cleaner and more supportive for the kids who live there.
In a Houston Chronicle profile by Andrew Dansby published on Oct. 24, other initiatives, such as better compensation for teachers and programs for the elderly, were also outlined as part of Jordan’s pitch to voters, as well as the idea that his rap career bolsters his viability as a politician.
“There’s a whole generation of voters that have not been engaged because they don’t feel they’ve been represented,” Al Freeman, a comedian and Jordan’s friend, told Dansby. “There’s nobody like [Jordan] in this election. Hip-hop has been around since, what… 1976? You’re talking about teenagers to guys who are 55. They understand the politics of his music. I think folks who don’t usually vote will come out for him. Brad can move people.”
The Geto Boys was born in Houston’s Fifth Ward, so Jordan is no stranger to tackling difficult issues in the community.
Where to start? West first declared he would run for president of the United States in August 2015 while accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at MTV’s Video Music Awards. “And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president,” Yeezy said at the end of his meandering acceptance speech.
As time has worn on, it became apparent that the 42-year-old will not be running in the 2020 election, since he has aligned himself with President Trump, whom he would have had to run against next year if he stuck to his word from the 2015 VMAs.
West has met with Trump several times, including a trip to the White House in October 2018. While in the Oval Office, West wore the red Make America Great Again hat widely sported by Trump supporters and discussed a wide range of topics. “People expect that if you’re black, you have to be Democrat,” the Grammy winner remarked at one point.
On Jan. 1, West succinctly tweeted, “2024.” The wide assumption was that he had amended his earlier quest to run for president in 2020 to 2024. More recently, while promoting his new album Jesus Is King last week, West asserted to Beats 1’s Zane Lowe that “there will be a time when I will be president of the U.S.,” a claim he’s repeated several more times over the past week. West released the gospel album Jesus Is King on Oct. 25 and the seven-song Ye in June 2018, and over the past year, his already controversial statements have grown to include a wholehearted support of Trump and divisive statements about slavery being a “choice.”
Naima Cochrane recently wrote a deep-dive feature for Billboard on the polarization of West in the black community through his public political stances in recent years to correspond with Jesus Is King dropping.
Delgado might be least known for his rapping, but the Rhodes Scholar serves in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat from New York’s 19th congressional district. It was during his campaign in 2018 that his past life as rapper AD the Voice came under fire. Republican incumbent Rep. John Faso, whom Delgado would go on to defeat in the November midterms, used the lyrics on Delgado’s 2006 album Painfully Free against him.
“Mr. Delgado’s lyrics are offensive,” Faso told The New York Times in July 2018. “It’s his responsibility as a candidate to answer for the controversial views he expressed in his lyrics and whether he continues to hold these views today.”
Delgado did indeed answer questions about his old music with Herndon. “It was different contexts, different tactics, but same desires and same outcomes,” the 42-year-old said. “Issues like income inequality, issues like gender equality, issues like the pollution of our environment and climate change — these are all issues that I talked about back then as an artist that I’m not talking about [as a candidate].”
In a separate Times article, amidst continued attacks on his past lyricism, Delgado continued to stand by the decade-old music: “I’m very committed to the themes that I was concerned about then, chief among them people on the margins. So for me to apologize, I would in essence be apologizing for what I am doing today,” he said.
Most recently, the College Affordability Act was passed on Oct. 31, including some Delgado-backed provisions that seek to “increase financial support for students and expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to include farmers and ranchers,” according to press release.
Mike, known as one-half of Atlanta hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, first expressed interest in running for office in 2015. The 44-year-old Atlanta native announced he was running for Georgia’s 55th District. However, the dream was short-lived as he explained in an Instagram video that logistics were preventing him from entering the race as Georgia required him to register as a write-in.
I can’t run — BUT — For the folks that were willing to Write in #MichaelRender Thank U so Much. I am gonna run one day and WE WILL WIN. However in Ga I wud have to officially enter as a “write in” vs being an Actual Write in (those are the breaks) but, I really felt it important to draw attention to this race. We have BIG Problems in education, schools and prison reform in Ga and I I wanna see change. I wanna see Yall active in Local politics. The fact that ya’ll are willing to support me shows change is possible and while I run around rapping with @thereallyrealelp doing #RunTheJewels for the next few yrs I want ya’ll to get & stay active and Run for office! We need more New and fresh ideas & people! Now Tomorrow yall choose between two sisters, a Junior & a white indie (really republican and I’m cool with that too if he does the job so give him a look) I suggest yall Google them read up tonight and GO VOTE tomorrow! I will Run In the Future and We Will Win! Love and Respect Michael Render #Vote #District55 #TomorrowInGeorgia #DontWriteMeInYet #IwannaKeepRapping #MyWifeStillLikesStripClubs #MyOGwantMeToRunDoe #GetAvtive #ChangePolitics #ISeeICanRunAndIWillOneDay #ThankYall make sure yall watch me on #TheNightlyShow with Larry Wilmore at 11:30 est. —- #GoVote
In an interview with Noisey, Mike reiterated that he still planned to run for a political office “one day.” As for his intentions specifically in 2015, he said: “More importantly — and the reason why I did it besides the fact that I think politicians need to understand that people from the regular constituencies are willing to run against them — I wanted to make people aware that the election was even happening.”
Mike’s long-term goal re-emerged in November 2017 when he tweeted that he wanted to run for school board “when I’m done rapping.” In the meantime, the Grammy-nominated artist born Michael Render turned to Netflix as an outlet to immerse himself in the community and make change. He debuted a six-episode series titled Trigger Warning in January. In it, Mike explored the education system, gang culture as well as economic, racial and ideological barriers.
Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, formerly of the 2 Live Crew, announced in 2011 that he planned to run for mayor of his native Miami-Dade County. Luke announced his intentions in a Miami News Times column that read, in part: “I get in my car, ride around Liberty City, and everything looks the same as when I was in the neighborhood growing up. I see the same crimes in the same areas. Officers and residents are still getting killed in the community I grew up in. I go to a city like Atlanta that has sensible affordable housing, and no one is being murdered. I go to Miami International Airport and see the same construction that has been going on for like a hundred years. All of that frustrates the hell out of me. Why aren’t we getting it right in Miami-Dade? Why is our government only serving one set of people? That’s what is pushing me to run.”
Luke was eliminated from the race during the Miami-Dade County special election on May 24, 2011, prior to the June run-off between Carlos Gimenez and Julio Robaina. While Luke lost, he still impressed by receiving 10.98 percent of the vote (10,982 votes).
“With less than $10,000 in campaign contributions, a small band of hard-working, unpaid volunteers, and the power of the alternative press, we put a real scare into the political machines that control our local elections,” Luke wrote in the Miami New Times following the loss. “We showed them that a candidate who is not beholden to special interests can be taken seriously.”
If he would have won, Luke said he wanted to rework the county budget the same way he did for his music label, Luke Records. Through his music career with 2 Live Crew, Luke had some experience with legislation. 2 Live Crew won a 1994 Supreme Court case titled Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music that hinged on their 1989 song “Pretty Woman.” Roy Orbison had released a 1964 hit titled “Oh, Pretty Woman” that 2 Live Crew sampled.
The Miami group released the song despite Acuff-Rose, the song’s publisher, refusing permission. However, the Supreme Court ruled that 2 Live Crew were within their rights under fair use because the song was ruled a parody. Prior to that, 2 Live Crew was the first to have an album slapped with a Parental Advisory label for 1990’s Banned in the U.S.A. The same year, 2 Live Crew were found not guilty in an obscenity trial.
In the years since he tried his hand in the 2011 mayoral election, Luke has found other ways to remain active in his community, including publicly backing Philip Levine in last year’s August primary and serving as a local high school football coach at Miami-Edison.
2 Chainz, born Tauheed Epps, fueled speculation that he was seriously plotting a political venture in 2015 when he told XXL magazine, “I’m supposed to be running for mayor in College Park. I got everybody wishing. I’m really gonna do this little mayor thing in College Park. I’m just trying to make sure I have thee right qualifications.”
However, he also told the magazine in the same breath, “I’m a musician, not a politician.” Around the same time, 2 Chainz showed off his chops by debating HLN host Nancy Grace about the legalization of marijuana.
The Grammy winner has yet to take political office, but he has found other ways to be involved in his hometown College Park community. 2 Chainz announced the purchase of a minority ownership stake in the College Park Skyhawks, the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, in May. “All I can think about is some of the job opportunities I can offer to the community by just being on the ground and being accessible,” he told Billboard at the time.
2 Chainz’s most recent album, released in March, challenged the systemic and oppressive assumption placed on the black and brown communities in title alone: Rap or Go to the League.
Che Smith, better known as Rhymefest, came close to becoming an elected politician. The Grammy- and Oscar-winning rapper ran for alderman of the 20th Ward in his hometown of Chicago. During his announcement speech in October 2010, per the Chicago Tribune, Rhymefest said: “This is the ward that we are going to take back for the people who live here… We are the 20th Ward, and we will reclaim our greatness.”
The Tribune article went on to explain, “Smith said he would use hip-hop as a tool to speak to the youths and engage the community, as well as his connections in the music industry to bring business back to the many boarded-up storefronts. He said he will call on Kanye West, with whom he co-wrote the song ‘Jesus Walks,’ which won him a Grammy, and fellow rapper Common to ‘start a 20th Ward renaissance.'”
Come election time in April 2011, Rhymefest just barely lost when his 2,090 votes (46.26%) fell short of incumbent Willie Cochran’s 2,428 (53.74%). Rhymefest initially refused to concede the race, claiming voter fraud. Before nearly taking office in Chicago’s South Side, though, Rhymefest broke barriers by meeting with then-British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2006 to hash out their differing opinions on hip-hop and the role it plays in society.
Rhymefest has remained committed to Chicago through Art of Culture Inc. In May 2018, the charity originally founded as Donda’s House to honor West’s late mother tweeted that West’s polarizing political comments in support of President Trump and his shared ideals with Trump had negatively affected support for Donda’s House. The nonprofit was officially rebranded as Art of Culture Inc. in June 2018.