Unlike most young, white teenagers growing up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, my favorite musicians were hip hop artists, including rappers such as Eric B., Big Daddy Kane and Chuck D of Public Enemy.
As a young man listening to hip hop in the late 80s and early 90s, I was exposed to what was happening outside of my world of finely manicured lawns in the ‘burbs. Before I bought my first Public Enemy cassette tape (kids, you can Google “cassette tape”), exotic food was Taco Bell and my exposure to different cultures came through the television. Now, I have backpacked, worked or lived in almost 50 countries and speak three languages. I owe part of that passion, love of people and different cultures directly to hip hop.
It was 1989. I walked off my school bus with my little brother. I set foot onto one of those finely manicured lawns. A cassette tape was on the curb, the top half cut off and unwound. Being a music lover, I took out my number two pencil and wound it up. We got home, and I played the tape. The opening line was “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” It was NWA, the hardcore, gangsta rappers that rapped about life in Compton in graphic, graphic detail.
Of course, as a young, rebellious kid, I felt a thrill listening to this music. Immediately, the hip-hop artists did what artists have been doing for centuries – they opened my eyes up to a whole new world. NWA was doing what blues, folk and rock stars have been doing for generations- they were describing hardship and pain. They described their experience as young, black men coming of age during the crack epidemic, gang wars and violence in every direction. Where else could a sheltered suburban kid hear or learn about these issues in such a graphic way? Not the local library.
My love of hip hop never ceased and included the aforementioned Chuck D of Public Enemy. Chuck said it best, “our freedom of speech is freedom or death.” This is a message we can all get behind, Republican or Democrat. I find a conservative message in “Fight the Power” because I believe when government expands it becomes a political tool meant to oppress. We see it when Chuck D addresses oppression and the Civil Rights movement or references the Black Panthers. We see it when NWA, or even old-school artists like Paris, address harassment from law enforcement. Targeting and oppression is happening today, from the IRS going after political groups to the government spying on journalists and everyday American citizens.
Liberty does not grow with government; they stand in contrast to one another. We have to vigilantly protect it, so we can continue to live in a free society. Music is and has always been another way to shed light where there is injustice. I am a Hip Hop Conservative, and that is not an oxymoron. It is the future of many others in my generation of 40 and below.
My goal as a Member of Congress is to connect and communicate the conservative message to people, cutting across cultural, generational and ethnic lines. My love for music has helped me do this, and as much as we may disagree philosophically, Public Enemy and NWA have helped me do this. Music has always been a way to bridge people together, whether its sharing a head nod to hip hop or having a jam session with a few Fenders.
We face monumental challenges as a nation and we are only going to find solutions if we find our common bonds, talk to each other, and work together to fight for this great country. I hope our generation can lead the way.
U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, represents the 19th Congressional District of Florida.