The last place you would probably expect to see or hear about hip-hop is in congressional politics. However, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) of the Empire State’s 8th District is making sure that music stands at the forefront of politics whenever it’s appropriate.
The Brooklyn-bred politician made headlines in 2017 for rapping The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” on the House floor, and more recently, he announced the release of his top 10 female rap collaborations to commemorate the contributions of female rappers to the music industry for Women’s History Month.
“The women on this list are legends in their own right,” he wrote on his Medium page about the project. “They defied artistic convention and lyrically elbowed their way to the top of rap’s male-dominated mountain top.”
Jeffries is also using his top 10 list to highlight the fight many artists face to protect their music through branding rights and licensing deals. He serves as the lead-cosponsor of the Music Modernization Act in the House of Representatives, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.). The act aims to ensure that musicians are properly compensated for their art, which will hopefully be done through reform, regulation, rate setting disputes, and the repeal of Section 114(i) of the Copyright Act.
“The rate court judges are barred from considering sound recording royalty rates as a relevant benchmark when setting performance royalty rates for songwriters and composers,” the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) reports. “As a result, the playing field is uneven, at the expense of songwriters.”
VIBE caught up with Rep. Jeffries to discuss his love of hip-hop, the criteria he’s following to choose his top 10 collaborations, and a bit about the importance of the Music Modernization Act.
VIBE: Were you born in Brooklyn? Brooklyn born and bred?
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: That’s correct, born in Brooklyn Hospital.
So, hip-hop was probably a foundation of your youth. Who were some of the rappers you grew up with and were into?
In terms of my first exposure to hip-hop, it was through the lens of Run D.M.C, KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim.
Why take the list of the top collaborations, as opposed to top songs by female rappers?
That’s a great question. One of the best ways, in my view, to highlight outstanding female MCs is by showcasing collaborations where they often outperform their legendary male counterparts. In my view, they’re on the court balling at the same time and doing their thing. There’s no better evidence of greatness than to see them on the court together.
Is there a criteria you’re using to choose your top 10?
The high caliber of the lyrical content, the attractiveness and success of the song, and the stature of the artists who are a part of the collaboration are probably the top three [traits] that weighed on me the most.
— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) March 1, 2018
Do you have any favorite female MCs?
“Of course in my view it’s MC Lyte and Queen Latifah. What I found is that the early female rap pioneers often didn’t do collaborations, or were not given the opportunity to participate in collaborations, or there weren’t many I could find. But, it’s clear the foundation in hip-hop in many ways and the foundation of female MCs was laid by legends like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and I would also add Salt N’ Pepa to that list as a group.”
As you know, historically, hip-hop wasn’t a genre that was female-dominated. What do you think is the most gratifying aspect of seeing women succeed in the genre?
Well, music is a universal language that breaks through racial, religious, and regional barriers. The hip-hop genre helps to tell our story, and we should celebrate those women who’ve done it the best with passion and power, and who have contributed so much to its evolution. It’s Women’s History Month, and pioneers in every field of human endeavor will be celebrated in different ways, why not put a little rap music into the mix?
What do you think is the unifying factor between female rappers, both in today’s generation and the start of female rappers’ mainstream success?
Female rappers who’ve been the best have had style, grace. authenticity, and intellect in their music, and those have been the things that jumped out at me as I observed female MCs over time.
You’re also championing a cause, as one of the lead sponsors for the Music Modernization Act in the House of Representatives. What are you hoping this act can provide for musicians who are trying to properly be compensated for their music?
As we continue to transition our economy in the digital era, it is important to make sure that those who create and perform music at every level are compensated for brilliance. The founding fathers of this country gave Congress the ability to create an intellectual property system in order to promote the progress of science and art.
Music, of course, is an important part of art as a cultural entity, and the founding fathers understood it was important for creatives to benefit from the fruits of their labor, and continue to share their creativity with the world. In the 21st century, technology is a wonderful thing, but it’s also presented some challenges to the way some artists, musicians, and creators are compensated. The Music Modernization Act is designed to help with that issue, to make sure that music will be available for generations to come.
You wrote on your Medium page [about the top 10 female rap collaborations] that hip-hop has been a “great escape,” considering the country we’re living in and the person who is holding the office of the presidency. What are some of the elements that you look for in hip-hop music today?
As hip-hop music continues to develop today, I look forward to hearing from authentic but prophetic voices, who can analyze the challenges that black America continues to confront in the era of Donald Trump. Some of the great hip-hop artists, from Public Enemy to Nas through Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, and Tupac- in different ways- all were powerful social commentators. It seems to be important that in these very challenging and difficult times in our country, we could use powerful social commentary coming from today’s generation of hip-hop artists.
I think that’s pretty good criteria for basing your favoritism on.
One of the things I love about being in the House is that there are 435 of us who come from different backgrounds, but try to bring our unique experiences to that representation. Hopefully in some small way through hip-hop music, I can continue to do that.