La La Anthony and Terrence J.
Celebrities, activists, and residents celebrated President Barack Obama’s reelection throughout the holiday weekend at dozens of events. One standout was the Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball hosted by Russell Simmons, who co-founded Def Jam Recordings and now serves as chairman of the nonprofit Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN, a ball co-sponsor). The network aims to use hip-hop as a catalyst for advocacy, and the event honored those who have made a difference. Celebrities walking the red (or in this case, green) carpet included Rosario Dawson (accepting the Vanguard Award on behalf of Voto Latino), Wayne Brady, and former Capitol File cover star John Legend.
Dawson captivated attendees while wearing a metallic dress but focused on her philanthropy and not her style. “I’ve been really moved and blown away by Simmons' work,” Dawson told Capitol File. “We’ve been on the same side for a really long time, making sure communities can have their voices heard. And understanding that a lot of leadership is not just the people we’re voting for but the people who are actually voting.”
Brady—known for his comedic and singing talents—confessed to a love for hip-hop. “Contrary to what some people may judge my own personal book by, I know that the reason that I even got into improvisation or developed the skill is because when I was a kid, I started listening to hip-hop—which was not allowed in my house at all,” he told Capitol File, noting that the songs helped him become a writer because he’d listen to and then repeat the lyrics. “To see [the music] become a potent force for change to be able to get a President elected and then to be able to be here tonight with Russell Simmons, who pretty much put his stamp on the brand of the whole movement, that means a lot to me.” (Brady later earned big applause from the crowd when he sang “What’s Going On” with accompaniment from beat-box pioneer Doug E. Fresh.)
The event, like many across the city, had its share of light moments, including a short impromptu rap from Lifetime Achievement honoree MC Lyte. But there was also time for reflection as attendees mused on the political climate. “This reelection and this inauguration—the second inauguration of Barack Obama—is a tremendous source of encouragement, not only to the hip-hop generation but to all people,” HSAN’s president and CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis said from the carpet. “We’ve got to continue to push forward. I’m looking for some hip-hop artists to start running for office themselves.”