Editor’s Note: 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.
Five-time Grammy Award winner Malik Yusef, a spoken-word poet and longtime producer/co-writer for Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music, has dubbed Pope Francis the “first Hip-Hop Pope.”
Yusef, along with other artists, performed at the Moral Action on Climate Justice Rally in Washington on Thursday, as Pope Francis makes his historic visit to the United States.
“Me and my friends, we affectionately call Pope Francis the first ‘Hip-Hop Pope,’” Yusef told CNN. “He does things that the hip-hop culture gravitates to … He’s a fly person, he speaks his mind, he speaks his heart. That’s what hip-hop is.”
Most recently, Yusef co-wrote eight songs on West’s sixth studio release “Yeezus,” which charted #1 on Billboard, and he has won Grammy awards for his work on West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” West’s 2011 hit “All of the Lights,” John Legend’s 2010 album “Wake Up!” and West’s iconic 2005 album “Late Registration.”
Over the last month, Yusef – a surrogate for the Hip-Hop Caucus – has been on the “Act of Climate” National Bus Tour to raise awareness about climate change and its disproportionate effect on low-income communities and people of color.
“This Pope, especially over any other pope, really talks about human-based issues outside of religion,” Yusef said. “So you don’t have to actually be a Catholic or a Christian to identity with Pope Francis.”
Pope Francis issued an urgent call to action on climate change while speaking to thousands on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday.
“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem, which can no longer be left to a future generation,” Francis said. “When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”
Pope Francis, who addressed a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning, made some congressional Republicans uneasy with his progressive views on climate change.
But Yusef, who called climate change “the biggest issue we have on the planet Earth,” said that it is “ludicrous” to characterize climate change as a political issue.
He re-mixed West’s 2015 hit “All Day,” which he co-produced, to speak out on issues like climate change as well as the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“Politics is legislation. You can’t legislate the Earth. You have to take care of the Earth. That is your job as a human being born to a planet,” Yusef said, calling People Francis “an amazing person” for speaking out.
“You can’t take – unfalrly and unjustly – your portion (of the planet), plus other people’s portions away from them. It’s a non-political issue. I don’t think that should be an argument about that,” Yusef said. “It’s an erroneous charge to say ‘oh, (Pope Francis) is getting political because he’s talking about the planet we live on.’ Be serious!”
Yusef has addressed climate change in his music and spoken word poetry and has collaborated over the years with Common, Raheem DeVaughn, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and rapper The Game, among others.
Pope Francis “does all the things that other popes wouldn’t touch,” Yusef said. “And I think hip-hop music is that brash, that avant-garde aspect that we just go hard. And anybody in hip-hop … they’re all very, very brave and very brazen and this Pope is the same way.”