You Down with GOP?

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

Until Racism Exposed came along, there's little evidence CORAD was much more than a name Kennedy printed on his letterhead. Kennedy claims the group has "a couple of thousand" registered members, but he can offer no proof. The chat boards on his Web site (www.coradpress.com) are all but silent. He says that last year CORAD organized a food drive and held an anti-racism rally, both in partnership with KMOJ. But station manager Vusumuzi Zulu denies ever having worked with Kennedy, and Kennedy was unable to find any records to document those events.

The CORAD Web site is Kennedy's electronic soapbox, a forum for his beliefs that many typically Democratic positions limit individual freedoms (notably support for gun control and opposition to school vouchers) or trap minorities in endless cycles of poverty and violence (affirmative action, welfare entitlements, public housing). And the site exudes a fervor noticeably absent from the CD. Cloaked in the relative anonymity of the Web, Kennedy labels Democrats "the party of the Klan," and rails about perceived similarities between "extreme Liberals" and Nazis. But even online Kennedy has a habit of ducking sole ownership of his views. He writes in the first person plural, as if intending to amplify CORAD's membership. Then there's his narrative voice as a rap lyricist: Kennedy, a white salesman, writes in a voice he imagines is that of a black MC ("Sit back, relax, while I hip you to the hap").

He says he felt no qualms about writing lyrics in which the terms "we" and "us" speak for a group to which he does not belong. He has little time for questions of authenticity and shrugs off the squeamish specter of minstrelsy. He did his homework, he says, talking to "thousands of blacks" in informal settings. ("Say, on an airplane or in an airport," he posits.) "I take an interest in black people, because blacks have an understanding of freedom," he explains. "Blacks and conservatives have a lot in common: We want a couple of things out of life, and that's to be free, to have low taxes, to live where we want, to have a car if we'd like, and not have to abide by the rules of overbearing government."

And how did the black participants in Racism Exposed feel about disseminating Kennedy's lyrics? While the MC Shoanna Z was out of town prior to press time and could not be reached for comment, producer Ben Obi says he had his doubts. "Initially, a flag went up," says Obi, a British national of Nigerian descent who has lived and worked in the Twin Cities for a decade. "Anybody's initial reaction to this is probably gonna be, 'I don't want to have anything to do with this.' But there's a passion there that has to be respected."

In the end, Obi says, he set his qualms aside. "I purely approached it from a musical standpoint," he explains. "As a music producer, it's my job to bring out the best in their project. I'm just trying to enhance what they do." Obi says Kennedy and Gotti told him exactly what they wanted to do: Reach the masses. "They just said they wanted some R&B music that was accessible to anybody," he recalls.

Despite the producer's best efforts, the album's sales figures are less than impressive. A check of the disc's retail history at metro area Best Buy locations reveals that the chain stocks 10 to 15 copies at each store--and sold a grand total of four of them in the ten weeks prior to press time. (One of those was purchased by City Pages for this article.) Though Kennedy says he and Gotti have invested $100,000 in the project, he seems unconcerned about the financial bath he must be taking. That may be because he believes he has found a wealthy new benefactor: The state Republican Party.

 

The use of rap music to spur activism is nothing new. KRS-One and Public Enemy's Chuck D have long mixed nation-building with market-testing, and Grandmaster Flash got out the vote for Jesse Jackson way back in '84. Contemporary "raptivists" such as the Black Star-affiliated Black August group easily align with the political left (they recently sent a delegation of rappers to Cuba), as does Mumia 911, a collective spearheaded in part by Spearhead's Michael Franti to agitate for prison reform and a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. If anything, CORAD is raptivism's right-wing doppelganger--and one that carries the endorsement of Minnesota's Republican establishment.

In January, Kennedy and KMOJ DJ J.R. Maddox met with Tony Sutton, executive director of the state GOP. Says Sutton: "I'm not a connoisseur of hip-hop music, but to me the music has a pretty good beat." It must have been good enough to convince him to give Racism Exposed some exposure--an item about the disc appeared in the January 25 edition of the party's weekly e-mail update GOP Newsline, in which communication director Bridget Cronin sampled "some of [her] favorite lyrics." Sutton also says he played the album at a recent meeting of the state executive committee and promoted it at last month's Republican National Committee meetings in San Jose. "I had so many requests for it that I didn't have enough copies with me," he beams. "I had to get extra copies from Don Kennedy to mail around to people."

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