Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is again drawing on support from musical artists to boost turnout among African Americans, as Jeezy, the rapper, singer and songwriter, will appear on Thursday at a campaign roundtable focused on issues facing Black men.
Joining him for the event will be actor Sean Patrick Thomas; Jeff Johnson, founder and curator of Men Thrive; Michigan State Representative Jewell Jone and Dr. David Marion, grand basileus of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. The focus will be on COVID-19 and how it has affected Black men.
Jeezy met Biden last year at an event with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, but at the time he clarified that he was not endorsing him in advance of the state’s Democratic primary.
He had said that he has not met Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, in person, but got a chance to speak to her on a call.
“I think that the fact that he spoke on doing something about it is unique because I don’t hear that from any of the other candidates,” Jeezy, whose real name is Jay Wayne Jenkins, told Deadline this week. “Being a black man in America is definitely a hard job right now. So anyone who is going to come and try to help us with that burden, I have to take the time to hear them out, see what their plan is and see how they are going to go about these things.”
He cited the need for criminal justice and police reform, particularly with the police killing of unarmed Black men. The campaign’s event on Thursday will be the latest in a series called Shop Talk, last month following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
“There’s so many things wrong that nobody’s going to be able to fix it all in one swipe, but at least somebody is willing to hear it out and understand what we are going through as Black men,” Jeezy said.
He also addressed the challenge of getting Black men to turn out given the pandemic.
“I think we are in a worst place now than we have ever been, at least in my generation,” he said. “It is hard to get people out of their house and vote, if they don’t understand how it is going to affect them, because all they know is what they see in real time, and what they see on the news and what they see on their feed and what they hear from their kids and what they see from their family members. Anybody who feels they are not being respected or appreciated falls back from anything that has anything to do with politics, because we just don’t understand how it is going to affect us and our communities and our people.”
Asked about Kanye West’s presidential bid, Jeezy said, “I think he’s a great artist, but I don’t think he needs to be nobody’s president. Bless his heart if he feels he can do the job, but right now is not the time. This is real, people are dying. This ain’t entertainment, and we love Kanye dearly, but this is not the time for that. This is real. We need help. We need change.”
West has been trying to secure a spot on the ballot in a number of states, but has been rejected in some of his efforts, including in Virginia and Wisconsin. His campaign has drawn scrutiny from journalists who have pointed out how he is being assisted by Republican operatives in lining up ballot signatures.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has tried to draw more African American voters by emphasizing his signing of criminal justice reform legislation in late 2018. But he’s also deployed a law and order campaign strategy that treats the Black Lives Matter protest movement as if it were beset by violence and even terrorism.
Past Shop Talk events have featured other showbiz figures like Terrence J and Don Cheadle.
Johnson, a podcast and radio host who will moderate the event on Thursday, said celebrity endorsements can be “bridges to candidates,” but the candidates still have to win the hearts and minds of the voter. In terms of celebrity influence, he said, “It depends on which one. Musicians are like politicians, like business owners. They are as powerful as their relationships.” He said that Jeezy is someone who is visible in local communities and engages with his fan base.
“Sometimes [in campaigns] we put too much pressure on the artist, because the artist never said, ‘I will get out and get people to vote,'” he said. “What they do do is raise the level of awareness and raise the level of excitement in some cases.”
Johnson said that a challenge this year are issues raised by the pandemic, what with increased emphasis on voting by mail, concerns over ballots being counted and misinformation about the process. That latter includes misstatements about the security of vote by mail.
“There is also a reality, that as you talk about the economy and jobs and entrepreneurship, there is a segment of Black men in both urban and rural centers who want to hear how they are going to be affected, not just at the top of the ticket but those down the ballot,” Johnson said.