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The Week Ahead

A single-minded bid to get out the vote

August 16, 2004|Randy Lewis

A small army of hip-hop and R&B stars has come together on a new single hitting radio today that they hope will motivate more Americans, especially young people, to get out and vote come November.

Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, Ashanti, Eve, Brandy, Wyclef Jean and Jadakiss are among more than two dozen performers who have recorded an updated version of "Wake Up Everybody," a 1976 hit for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds produced the single, which will benefit America Coming Together. The organization supports the defeat of President Bush, but participants in "Wake Up Everybody" say the goal of this project is participation, not partisanship.

"You can't play it backward and hear it say 'Vote for [John] Kerry,' " Edmonds says with a chuckle. "There's no double entendres or second meanings here. It was an effort to engage people in what we're trying to do, which is to get people involved."

Still, the chorus of Melvin's song says, "The world won't get no better if we just let it be / The world won't get no better, we gotta change," which few would interpret as an endorsement of any incumbent politician.

Elliott adds topicality with a rap that includes the lines "I don't care about the guns you tote / Listen to me like you listen to 'Fahrenheit 9/11.' "

Edmonds notes that some acts he approached about participating declined because they didn't want to be associated with any song that might have political overtones.

"For me, it's not so much a question of being political," Edmonds says. "The way I see it, too many people in our history fought for the right for all of us to vote for anyone not to take advantage of that. I don't care who you're voting for."

The track, besides going out to radio this week, will be included on an album of politically or socially minded songs, from Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" to Jurassic 5's "Freedom," due in stores Sept. 16.

For Russell Simmons, the multimedia mogul and Hip-Hop Summit founder who helped come up with the idea for the "Wake Up Everybody" recording, the message simply reflects the growing reality of political activism.

"It just seems like what's happening," Simmons says. "You walk around and people will say, 'Kids are waking up.' Rappers are getting to be of an age where leadership is on their minds and they accept their responsibility.... These rappers wouldn't be talking about voting unless people in the street were talking about voting. They're doing what's in style."


-- Randy Lewis

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