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If you don’t know their work well, you might have a hard time figuring out why controversial radio personality Charlamagne tha God and Ari Melber, MSNBC’s chief legal correspondent, would be headlining an event together. Their connection is pretty simple though: hip-hop and politics.
It’s easy to connect Melber to politics and Charlamagne to hip-hop, but the two each have a love for both that’ll bring them to Politicon in Los Angeles this weekend to discuss how affairs in politics influence and intersect with hip-hop.
Charlamagne’s interviews lately — specifically since the 2016 election — have included more political figures from Hillary Clinton while on the campaign trail, to commentators like Angela Rye and Michael Eric Dyson. He says that while his show’s focus is primarily hip-hop music, culture and entertainment, the last election changed that when politics became pop culture and pop culture became politics.
“The consciousness of America changed,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. From police violence to voting rights, the Power 105 host said “these are things that we’re talking about every day when we’re not on the radio, so why wouldn’t we talk about them on the radio?” He continued, “These voices that we’ve been bringing on are speaking directly to what’s going on in the White House, but they’re also speaking to what’s happening in our communities.”
Melber — whose focus lately is on his new MSNBC show The Beat with Ari Melber — says the influence of his worldview is largely impacted by his early discovery of and enduring love for hip-hop that started at Seattle’s Garfield High School, known for famous alumni Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix.
“I remember buying The Fugees‘ The Score my freshman year and feeling like this whole new world and this whole new conversation was opening up to me,” Melber recalled. “In terms of politics, Andrew Brietbart, of all people, made the apt observation that politics is downstream from the culture. Meaning that people live culture first and decide, often, what they think about the world around them second.”
To juxtapose that philosophy to the present day, Melber believes that President Donald Trump is an example of how being deeply rooted in the culture as a personality can translate as being viewed as a political leader.
Similarly, he views hip-hop as being a “dominant cultural framework in America” that influences how we feel about justice, values, and the society we have versus the one we want.
Charlamagne and Melber agree that hip-hop’s nature is always about what’s on people’s minds, whether the narrative focuses on partying and having a good time, or it’s about the struggles of living in a given artist’s neighborhood and battling with systemic oppression and inequality.
“There’s a lot of hip-hop that’s oriented toward a progressive view of America because it’s oriented toward a civil rights progress and a critique of the power structure,” Melber explains.
“Hip-hop[‘s role in politics] is very important. [It’s] the voice of the streets, and a lot of times we have political messages that we want to get out that certain voices will express for us,” says Charlamagne, “or there are certain things that we need to know that only someone from the community can convey.”
It could be argued that both of these men are reflections of what they’re talking about. Charlamagne makes nearly 2 million impressions via his Twitter following alone, with interviews, his new book and his daily musings on the culture. Ari Melber is all over MSNBC each day providing not only legal perspective on Washington, the White House and more, but also frequently dropping a classic hip-hop lyric while doing so.
The duo will chat about how those roads cross one another and diverge on Sunday at Politicon in Los Angeles.
Melber finishes thinking about what he’s looking forward to on the panel, in true hip-hop fashion: “Conferences like this are great because they are not just the same old conversation. The only thing that people have asked me in preparing for this panel is, am I buying bottles for Charlamagne?”
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