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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Street 'cred' by voting

THE home page of a hip-hop voter registration site raises the imperative of voting in language that a generation of disaffected youth can relate to: "If you aren't registered to vote yet, you're gonna get played in November. Register now."

The point has been made more grammatically, but rarely as eloquently. There was a time when rappers and other "urban entertainers" took a perverse pride in being alienated from the political process. Not any more.

Once obsessed with multi-platinum success and rituals of sex and violence, many chart-topping hip-hop artists wallowed in the pathologies of the music video age unmoved by any notion of civic duty. But in the run-up to what is arguably the most important election in a generation, voting is no longer considered "wack."

If anything, registering to vote and casting a ballot in November will impart street cred in the hip-hop universe.

Thanks to voter registration efforts spearheaded by national organizations like Def Jam founder Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Citizen Change, hundreds of thousands of once-unregistered rap fans are becoming acquainted with the apparatus of democracy.

Because only 19 percent of eligible 18-to-24-year-olds voted in the 2000 election, an infusion of voters from the ranks of the formerly disaffected could have a profound effect on Nov. 2.

But time is running out. In Ohio, less than three weeks remain to register to vote in time for this year's election. Oct. 4 is the last day.

This renewed sense of civic duty isn't restricted to rap fans. Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks, and other rockers are registering their fans at concert voter-drives, too.

Both candidates have their entertainer connections. Not since the 1960s have we seen this level of political interaction between artists and their audience. Then again, 18-year-olds didn't get the vote until the 1970s.

It could be the start of a new power bloc. But only if they register and then follow through by actually voting.

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