In 'mecca of hip-hop,' rappers rally for Georgia Democrats ahead of Senate runoffs

In Atlanta, where hip-hop is thriving, artists' voices are especially powerful.

January 5, 2021, 6:03 AM

Following President-elect Joe Biden's 2020 win against President Donald Trump, many hip-hop artists are turning their focus to the high-stakes Georgia Senate runoffs, where Democrats are running to unseat two Republican incumbent senators.

Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff face off against current GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue on Tuesday. The Democratic Party, which maintained a narrow lead in the House in 2020, needs to capture both Senate seats to flip the balance of power in the upper chamber.

Communities of color in Atlanta and the surrounding areas were key to Biden’s narrow win against Trump in the Peach State, where the Black vote is especially powerful, hip-hop artists are hoping to boost turnout and deliver another win for Democrats.

Recording artist J.I.D performs onstage during "Vote GA Blue" concert for Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on Dec. 28, 2020, in Stonecrest, Ga.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

“If the right people are not in the Senate, it’s gonna make it hard for the Biden-Harris administration to do anything they need to do and that they promised to us,” Atlanta rapper Jeezy told Rolling Stone in an interview published Dec. 29.

“What we did see by Georgia turning blue [and] by us being able to sway the election and get it the way we wanted to get it, it wasn’t about just the election -- to me, it was about people mobilizing,” he added. “So here with this runoff, we have to continue to do the same thing, because we can’t fight half the battle and then not finish the war.”

Jon Ossoff, Common, and Raphael Warnock wave to attendees during a 'It's Time To Vote' rally at Garden City Stadium in Garden City, Ga., Dec. 19, 2020.
Colin Douglas Gray/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

According to Lakeyta Bonnette-Bailey, a political science professor at Georgia State University who studies hip-hop culture and politics, the hip-hop culture’s influence on national politics has significantly grown over the past decade, but the voice of artists carries special weight in Atlanta, which is "now the center point of the hip-hop movement."

“This idea that Atlanta is the Black mecca has been presented by many because of the large concentration not only of wealthy Blacks, but educated, highly educated Blacks. But it's also the mecca of hip-hop,” Bonnette-Bailey said. “Hip-hop started in the northeast, in the Bronx. But now we see more hip-hop artists that are coming out of Atlanta.”

Rapper Tokyo Jetz performs onstage during the "Vote GA Blue" concert for Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on Dec. 28, 2020, in Stonecrest, Ga.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Hip-hop stars from all over the country have participated in virtual or in-person events in Georgia to get out the vote. Recently, artists like Common, BRS Kash, Moneybagg Yo, Tokyo Jetz and J.I.D. performed at rallies and concerts featuring Ossoff and Warnock.

And on Sunday, former first lady Michelle Obama’s non-profit When We All Vote hosted a drive-in concert featuring artists like Rick Ross, Common, Jeezy, Monica and DJ Drama. Ross, a Florida rapper who is prominent in the Southern rap scene, also performed at a "Joy to the Polls" pop-up concert Dec. 29 in Atlanta.

Rick Ross performs onstage during "Joy To Polls" Pop-Up concert on Dec. 29, 2020, in Atlanta.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

“Hip-hop artists in Atlanta have always had this pull on the people, always had a connection to the people and always represented the voice for the people, and I think that is just hip-hop in general,” Bonnette-Bailey said. But she added that local stars like Killer Mike and T.I., who have deep roots in the community and a history of political activism, have a “unique” connection with the people because their efforts are viewed as “authentic.”

Killer Mike and T.I. were both named to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' mayoral transition team, and over the decades, they have built strong relationships with local politicians and activists in the state.

T.I, who was honored by the Georgia state Senate in 2019 for his philanthropic work in the community, slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in an Instagram post Monday for blocking a vote on the $2,000 COVID-19 stimulus checks, writing, “We need to Move Mitch Out The Way by electing (Raphael Warnock) and (Jon Ossoff) to the US Senate on Jan 5th. The world is watching. Let's Activate the culture and show D.C. w-- WE DO‼️”

In this Dec. 21, 2019, file photo, Killer Mike, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Shana Render attend 36th Annual Atlanta UNCF Mayor's Masked Ball in Atlanta.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images, FILE

Killer Mike, who backed Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 and 2020 elections, invited the Vermont senator for a live Q&A on Instagram last month to discuss the progressive agenda and the Georgia Senate runoffs. The Run the Jewels rapper also spoke at a Dec. 20 event at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta, featuring Ossoff and Warnock.

In an effort to boost voter turnout in the runoffs, Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz announced to fans that he is giving away a Tesla -- a luxury electric car -- to a Georgia voter who requests a mail-in-ballot or pledges to vote.

Jermaine Dupri, an Atlanta rapper and record producer who became the second hip-hop act to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, appeared at a December rally in Georgia for Warnock and Ossoff and told radio personality Rickey Smiley in an interview last month that the Senate races “(feel) like (they’re) more important than the presidential election.”

Jeezy and Mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms attend his Inaugural SnoBall for his Non-Profit Street Dreamz Foundation at Waldorf Astoria Atlanta Buckhead on Aug. 22, 2019, in Atlanta.
Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for Street Dreamz, FILE

Jeezy, whose 2008 anthem, “My President (is Black),” went viral during Obama’s first campaign, also worked closely with Lance Bottoms and recently interviewed her on his show on streaming channel Fox Soul to discuss the importance of the Senate elections. He also penned a Dec. 10 op-ed on the subject for Rolling Stone.

The rapper, who has been a fixture in the Southern trap scene for decades, also made room for the Senate runoffs during his Verzuz battle with fellow Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane -- an iconic musical event for Atlanta hip-hop that was streamed by millions -- when he featured a message from Democrat voting rights activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

By Jan. 1, more than 3 million Georgians had voted early in a record for a runoff election. The secretary of state expects over 1 million more voters at the polls Tuesday.

ABC News' Quinn Scanlan contributed to this report.

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