Hip-hop star Talib Kweli: Why I am not endorsing anyone

Story highlights

  • Talib Kweli says Bernie Sanders is 'lesser of two evils'
  • He says it's important for a candidate to understand institutionalized racism

Art often reflects the political pulse of society and the issues that people care about. Throughout the 2016 election cycle, CNN Politics will be profiling various influential and politically conscious artists in the "Get political" series.

(CNN)While other hip-hop artists have chosen sides for the 2016 presidential election, Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli is not ready to endorse anyone.

In an interview with CNN, the hip-hop icon did have kind words for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who he said appears to "care about working class people."
"To be honest with you, out of all the politicians who are running for president, if I had to go with the lesser of two evils and I was forced to vote for somebody, [Sanders] would probably be the one to get my vote at this time," Kweli said. "But me saying that, that's really, really hypothetical. That's not at all me endorsing him as a candidate."
    And Kweli, one of the most politically active rappers in the industry and a civil rights activist, wasn't ready to endorse Hillary Clinton or anyone else.
    His past advocacy on issues related to mass incarceration, immigration and economic equality regularly makes waves with liberal political circles.
    "Talib coming out to the Dream Defenders protest in Tallahassee — that was huge and it was influential. Or Talib showing up to the Occupy Wall Street protest or Ferguson," said Bakari Kitwana, the author of "The Hip-Hip Generation" and "Hip-Hop activism in the Obama Era." "Those moments are huge on an activist level because it's starting to show that the artist recognizes themselves as a part of the community."
    Campaigns like Sander's and Clinton's are aware of the broad reach that some hip-hop artists have and they have capitalized on endorsements from the hip-hop community in the past.

    On Sander's run-ins with #BlackLivesMatter

    When asked about Sanders' tense interactions with "Black Lives Matter" demonstrators, who shut down a Sanders event in Seattle last summer, Kweli said that when he first watched what happened he "thought it was rude."
    "I, like many other people, thought there's several other candidates you can do this to. He's not the worst person. I even tweeted I'm not mad at Bernie Sanders at all," Kweli said.
    "I'm on the ground with activists. I see the urgency and why they do what they do, so I trust the judgment of an activist even when I don't completely agree," Kweli added.
    After realizing that confrontations between candidates and activists prompted or encouraged the candidates to come up with policy plans to combat issues like mass incarceration and police brutality, Kweli changed his mind.
    "I realized that I was participating in the same silencing of activists, the same type of judgment," Kweli said. "I didn't know that after [activists] did that to Martin O'Malley he came up with a plan to combat mass incarceration. And then after that, Bernie Sanders comes out with a plan. Hillary Clinton reaches out to them ... Not only did I stand corrected just on the action; I stand fully corrected because it achieved exactly what it's supposed to achieve."

    'You have to be grassroots'

    Like many political activists on both sides of the aisle, Kweli sees the grassroots level as the key to success.
    "I think we need to raise politicians from the ground up, who care about the community," Kweli said, citing his support for Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
    Kweli said that the voting system is "unfair" and "unbalanced" and for a politician to be capable of bringing out "revolutionary" change, they need to understand the layers of institutionalized racism.
    "That's one of the issues I have with progressives like Bernie Sanders," Kweli said. "Sometimes people who are not of color don't get that aspect of it. They think that everything will be solved if everyone was on a level playing field. But you can't legislate hate. You can't create laws or change economic situations that will make people stop hating people."
    Kweli said that Sanders is "revolutionary" in his own way as a socialist, and the notion of Clinton becoming the first woman president is also "revolutionary," but it takes more for him to give someone his vote.
    "In the past, I've said I don't vote at all. As I've grown, I've sort of shifted on that position slightly," Kweli said. "I don't always participate in presidential politics. I give my opinion when people ask me but I don't always vote."
    And when asked what qualities he looks for in political candidates, he said, "You have to be grassroots."
    "I didn't grow up poor in the projects or anything, but I didn't grow up rich either. My parents were educators," Kweli said, adding later, "I'm blessed, I'm privileged. God blessed me with talent and I've tried to repay that blessing by taking full advantage of my talent and use my talent to bring a positive message."