In the recent months we have seen hip hop stars and black celebrities alike take sides in the upcoming Presidential election. We’ve seen rappers like Killer Mike even have barbershop talks with candidates like Bernie Sanders. So with all the rallying and support from the hip hop community we should ask the question of where does hip hop fit into the grand scheme of things when it comes to government and politics. One black millennial who seems to be the conversation starter on the topic of hip hop and politics is Phillip Singleton, also known as the Hip Hop Lobbyist. As a lover of hip hop and politics, Singleton has managed to bridge the gap between the two worlds. And he has done all of this without asking for permission. I was lucky enough to speak to the busy political strategist and learn more about his journey.
Since this week we are discussing hip hop and politics out of respect for Brown Sugar, I have to ask you, When did you first fall in love with hip hop?
I fell in love with hip hop during the G-funk Era. I don’t remember where I was, whose house I watched it at but I do know that I was watching The Box (Music Television You Control) and I saw Warren G and Nate Dogg in the Regulate video for the first time.I was probably 8 maybe 9 years old, but it was my first time I really remember hearing and seeing the storytelling play out.. I was literally vibing to the rhythm of the track, sitting on the edge of my seat and fully appreciating Warren G and Nate Dogg’s flow over the beat. By the end of the music video, I didn’t even know what it was but I wanted to be a regulator from that day forward.The funk, strings, melodies, everything drew me in and I’ve been hooked on hip hop ever since.
When did you first fall in love with politics?
I really fell in love with politics when I wrote and passed my first law, which just so happened to be an amendment to Florida’s Constitution. The whole aspect of understanding a client’s issue, coming up with a strategic solution, rewriting the law, gaining support, getting bills through committees, the drama associated with egotistical politicians, I loved it.
How did those two worlds come together for you?
It became a daily motivation for me.
From simply understanding my purpose in life, the impact I could make in politics, and having a playlist of music that’s keeping me focused on my political hustle throughout the day helped these worlds come together for me.Every year a hip hop song or album has impacted my decision making and thought process working in this industry. When I took my step out on faith to work in politics, taking an unpaid internship with no guarantees, I understood that my hustle and determination would be the only factors taking me somewhere. Kanye West’s Street Lights helped me get through those struggles and kept me focused on the mission.
Years later, when J.Cole’s Sideline Story along with Macklemore’s Wings and Neon Cathedral were my primary songs in rotation, I decided to leave a cozy job to start my own governmental affairs and lobbying firm. At that moment, I realized that the hip hop culture had barely scratched the surface of what it could do in politics. I saw an opportunity to lead the charge in Florida to bring more culturally relevant, hip hop, tech startups and millennial businesses to the political table.During Florida’s 2016 legislative session, Rick Ross’s Black Market, Future’s Purple Reign & EVOL, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and Yo Gotti’s Art of Hustle
As the youngest black lobbyist in the state of Florida in 2010, what would you say were some of the challenges you faced in getting started in politics?
The challenges I’ve faced are ones that most millennials face in other industries, being qualified but lacking the respect of your knowledge because of your age. I’ve had former colleagues and people tell my clients that I’m inexperienced, I don’t have the relationships or the juice to actually get things done, all based on the fact that I’m a young black lobbyist.
For all intents and purposes, and outside of the political figure that is President Barack Obama, you have to remember that politics and lobbying is an old white man’s sport. Out of nearly, 1,800 lobbyists in Florida roughly 30 of them are black with me being the youngest in solo practice.I’m an anomaly because being a millennial, black and successful lobbyist is simply unheard of. A few weeks ago, I actually had an older lobbyist tell me to my face that I should take the time to go work for someone else again, sit back, watch and actually learn the game. Little did he know that 15 minutes before our conversation I secured over $300,000.00 for my clients in the state budget.
Simply put, if I didn’t know the game I wouldn’t have been in the building, but again my challenges are the same that most millennials face in today’s workforce. At the same time, I fully understand that being underappreciated and underestimated is only a stepping stone for future success.
What album best describes your journey to hip hop lobbyist?
That’s a very tough question but I will honestly say that after I started on my own firm, Nothing Was The Same by Drake is the only album I could think of that describes my journey as the hip hop lobbyist.My favorite tracks from that album are Tuscan Leather, Own It, Worst Behavior, All Me, and The Language because they really set the tone for how I operate as a lobbyist. However, Drake’s verse on Pound Cake tells all the naysayers and competition exactly I feel about my future in this industry.“Overly focused, it’s far from the time to rest now. Debates growin’ ’bout who they think is the best now? Took a while, got the jokers out of the deck now I’m holdin’ all the cards and they wanna play chess now…. I’m authentic, real name, no gimmicks. No game, no scrimmage, I ain’t playin’ with you (lobbyist’s) at all.”
We’ve seen hip hop artist like Killer Mike get involved in the presidential election but is there room for hip hop stars when it comes to local and state elections? What role do you see them playing?
Yes, there is plenty of room for hip hop artists to become our next Mayors, State Representatives, Senators, Governors and U.S. Congressman. In all honesty, I actually wanted to be a consultant or political operative for Tauheed Epps (2 Chainz) when he was considering running for Mayor of College Park, just to show the world that we could make it happen.
However, like any candidate or client I advise, before deciding to run for office they need to understand the dynamics on how to run an effective and successful political campaign. In hip hop terms, and in the words of Drake, “doing is one thing, doing it right is a whole different story.”When we talk about soft money vs. hard money, super voters, field plans, fundraising goals, projected voter turnout, grassroots outreach, and campaign messaging, I know for a fact that it’s a foreign language to most hip hop artists who are only considering running for office. But for all intents and purposes, a political campaign is really no different from the work it takes for an artist to release an album.It takes the same ground work but the strategy on how to move and engage voters is the only difference.
For those lovers of hip hop and not yet government, what are three things you want our Blavity readers to know to help them stop asking for permission and get engaged in their local government?
First, the Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson tactics of marching and protesting haven’t been effective since the Civil Rights era. People have marched for every injustice from voting rights, Stand Your Ground and Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter and senseless acts of violence in our communities since before 1960s. But how many laws and policies were changed to address the situations we cared about in the moment?Until we make a conscious effort to (1) create a political strategy that actually makes sense, (2) have individuals working behind closed doors to influence lawmakers, and (3) stop the endless discussion that look for our pastors and entertainers to provide answers, nothing will change.We cannot expect to Rainbow Coalition our way out these problems because it hasn’t worked to solve said problems in 50 years. Stop asking permission, put it in motion and let’s make it happen.
Second, To any hip hop artists who may be considering running for office, please know that it costs less than the Audemar, Maybach, Basquiat and closet full of Christian Louboutins you rapped about on your last album to have substantive influence in politics.
Honestly, it takes an investment of anywhere between $50k – $250k to directly impact an election, policymakers or cut your business’s tax burden in half. Imagine a world where you could get up to $1 million in tax break for the production of the next Big Pimpin music video, hosting the Revolt Music conference in your city, or creating another Empire/Power television show.The sad part is these opportunities are really out here but no hip hop industry based businesses or figures are at the political table to take advantage of these programs. Stop asking permission, we can really shift the culture of our nation’s political structure.
Lastly, we all pay taxes regardless of where you live in the world. Every time you put gas in your car, pay your cell phone bill, mortgage, buy groceries and when FICA hits your paycheck, you should know that the little bit of money you are paying in taxes is actually paying the salary of your elected officials.Since they are essentially your employees you should go vote to determine who you want working for you. If you don’t vote, don’t complain. Stop asking permission to make decisions regarding your quality of life.
The journey of the Hip Hop Lobbyist is one that can inspire us all and definitely gives us that extra push to stop asking for permission. Let’s learn from Phillip and find our own soundtrack for engaging government. Let’s remember there’s nothing more engaging and powerful than our own voice.