Jay-Z comes to A&T, poor timing tarnishes political message

by Ryan Snyder

There was an anxious crowd on the steps of Memorial Student Union at North Carolina A&T University Saturday, with one of the biggest names in music in attendance. Rapper Jay-Z was inside and ready to deliver a key political message, just days before one of the most significant elections in our nation’s history. More than one thousand students from all over Greensboro had gathered at 3:30 p.m. on the last day of the early voting period, many of them intending to cast their ballots shortly thereafter. Though this space is normally reserved for reviews of live concerts and the like, it seems appropriate discussion material when a performer of his influence appears locally and has something important on his mind. But before the man so famous that his nickname is a shortened form of Jehovah would speak, there were some other big names in music with a few words for the audience. Executive Vice President for Warner Music Group Kevin Liles, a man who started as an intern for the same company, gave an electrifying speech on the importance of being an active participant in the electoral process. He spoke quickly, but every sentence was powerpacked and elicited fiery responses from the audience. “This is the kind of history that should ignite a fire in us,” Liles stated. “It’s the kind that will encourage the leaders of tomorrow to talk about vision not division; hope, not hopelessness; to talk about power to the people, not the power politics of the few.” Liles meteoric rise through the ranks at Warner is easily attributed to his high level of charisma and that was apparent with his every word to the crowd heavily populated with A&T students. He urged those in attendance to embrace proactive political change with a simple statement. “I always say there are three kinds of people: those that make it happen, those that watch it happen and those that it happens to,” Liles shouted. “Ask yourself what kind of person are you.” Russell Simmons, who founded Def Jam Recordings in 1984, came to onstage immediately after and spoke in his own distinct voice. His criticism of the current administration drew wild cheers, which led into his thesis that the citizenry bears the defects of its leaders. He went on to praise hip-hop music as being the biggest catalyst for change in the lifetime of many in attendance and to prompt them that the injustice of past generations does not bear repeating. “I’d like to remind you that you’re not as sexist as they were, not as racist as they were and not as homophobic as they were,” Simmons said. Simmons was the last of Jay-Z’s entourage of VIPs to speak before the man himself appeared to the electric crowd of fans screaming his name. A gigantic, brutish-looking bodyguard paced the platform briefly before clearing the way for rap royalty to make his long-awaited testimony. Jay-Z took the microphone amidst a deafening roar and as the anticipation reached its zenith, he delivered a half-hearted “What’s up AT&T?” and yes, you read that right. It appeared that Jigga Man didn’t read his briefing closely enough and thought he was speaking before a group of telecommunications workers. All kidding aside, his time on the podium onstage, but their words would actually prove the headliner to be entirely anti-climatic. It’s reasonable to believe that the purpose of this rally was to persuade attendees to not just vote, but to do so immediately. Though it was a 15-minute walk from the rally site, there was a polling place on campus and it was, in fact, the last day of early voting. With polls closing at 5 p.m. sharp, this would be the last opportunity for anyone in the vicinity to cast an early ballot before Nov. 4. The rally itself was scheduled for 3:30 p.m., which would already create a sense of urgency for timely arrival. But nothing involving celebrities starts on time and the procession of hype men and women wouldn’t hit the stage until 4 p.m. Obviously, this created problems in achieving the intention of the rally. Thirty minutes of speeches, 10 minutes of watching the four-Suburban security detail pull away and then a long walk across campus leaves very little time for the end game. Dozens from the rally were told to try again Tuesday morning, providing plenty of time for the built-up voting fervor to dissipate. Jay-Z could have honored the numerous requests to “spit something” and delivered a meaningful freestyle what would have stoked the already heated fires even further. However, he seemed to be in a bigger hurry to get offstage and out of town than he was to be on time for an important day in the lives of so many first time-voters. And that’s unfortunate.

To comment on this story, e-mail Ryan Snyder and