You Down with GOP?

An obscure conservative organization peddles Republican-sanctioned hip hop to the masses

As amateur hip hop goes, the fidgety high-hat and chant-along, gun-toting chorus that kick off the disc Racism Exposed sound pretty typical. "You think I ain't goin' carry my strap?" demands an MC named Shoanna Z (a.k.a. Shoanna Zealand), before the album's first minute is up. But check the rhyme preceding it: "Democrats want me to stress like that?" Uh, Democrats? Since when did the buttoned-down DFL join sucker MCs, industry snakes, and jealous haters on rap's universal enemies list?

No, an album that opens with "Gun Control Is Racist" and follows with "Liberal Democrats Are Racist" is hardly pedestrian in its agenda. In fact, credited producers Don Kennedy and Rocco Gotti are among the unlikeliest impresarios the rap world has ever seen. They're odd in part simply for who they are (St. Paul-based salesmen in their midthirties who describe themselves as "successful white businessmen") in relation to what they've done (written an album's worth of rap lyrics for a hired team of African Americans to make into songs and perform). But it's the pair's Limbaugh-like obsession with the L-word--other titles include "Liberal Hollywood Hypocrites" and "Liberal Democrat Education Is Wack"--that relieves the authors of precedent.

Kennedy and Gotti aren't aspiring hip-hop stars; they're Republican activists. In the fall of 1998, the pair founded Citizens Opposing Racism and Discrimination (CORAD), a political advocacy group that, in Kennedy's words, "promotes conservative values and philosophies as a means to overcome racism." Released in September by CORAD Records, Racism Exposed was born of the duo's plan to reach an audience not usually steeped in right-wing discourse. "Rocco called me on April 15 last spring," Kennedy recalls. "He says, 'Don, I've got an idea. We can make a CD!' I said, 'Are you crazy?' He said, 'No, I'm not. We can do this.'"

Rappin' Donnie: Republican activist and hip-hop lyricist Don Kennedy
Siddiqi Ray
Rappin' Donnie: Republican activist and hip-hop lyricist Don Kennedy

To Kennedy, making a rap record was a matter of political expediency, not the realization of a creative urge. "I'm not a big music fan," he admits. "I do like some rap music. I like some of the stuff that Puffy Combs puts out, some of the stuff Biggie Smalls puts out. Master P has a couple good songs that I like, Public Enemy does some good stuff. But I'm more into mainstream rock, I guess."

But hip hop "seems to appeal to everybody," he continues. "We wanted our message to reach the broad spectrum of youth, and we felt this would be the best way."

So the pair began writing lyrics, trading ideas via fax and e-mail, then getting together to share their work. The process was quicker and easier than Kennedy had anticipated. "We thought we'd just do one or two songs, but then it really took on a life of its own," he recounts. "We had so much information and so much to write about that we decided to put out a full LP." In the end the pair penned lyrics for ten tracks (the album wound up with thirteen; the last three are dramatic readings of snippets from the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights, and sound bites culled from John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and...Barry Goldwater). Only "Our Black Founding Fathers," with a nearly inspired paean to forgotten black heroes of the Revolutionary War, ventures beyond easy mudslinging. Most of the rest are right-wing shoot-'em-ups, riddling everyone from Patricia Ireland to Leonardo DiCaprio with verbal bullets. The broadest targets take the most direct hits: "Ya know where Clinton was in Rwanda's genocide/Gettin' busy with an intern in the White House on the side." The disc is genuinely entertaining only when it stumbles blindly into the ridiculous, as in "NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, aka Left Wing Trickery," wherein we learn that "Alan Dershowitz is a liar" and Matt Drudge is "the truth resource."

Having rhymed the rhymes, the duo lacked the musical acumen to record them. So Kennedy approached the staff of KMOJ (89.9 FM), the local black community's longtime bastion of community news and music. KMOJ disc jockey J.R. Maddox pointed CORAD to St. Paul record producer B-Cube (a.k.a. Ben Obi), and later debuted a pair of tracks from the album on his program Rush It or Flush It, a show that invites listeners to phone in their reactions to new (mostly amateur and local) songs. When Maddox spun the cut "Secret Hidden Racism," supportive calls poured in. Most of the listeners who called during the segment (a tape of which Kennedy gave to City Pages) seem to have been less concerned with the lyrical content than CORAD might have intended. "It made me want to get up and dance," one caller declared. "That was dope--I liked the beat," added another. Kennedy's rhymes found a few friendly ears: "You got to rush that," a female caller said. "That girl was talkin' her mind." Only one caller voted to "flush it," opining, "Man, that wasn't cool with me." Additionally, Maddox's fellow KMOJ DJ Ray Richardson wrote a warm article about the album for the Minneapolis Spokesman in September.

KMOJ station manager Vusumuzi Zulu doesn't want to comment about his station's involvement in the project. "We are not dealing with that mess," Zulu says of Racism Exposed. "Personally, I find [the album] very offensive and manipulative. It's anathema to our mission of promoting positive images of the black community."

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