Among hip-hop music fans, DJs have long held a special status as the center of the party, spinning records and shouting into the microphone. Dunham has toured with hip-hop star Nicki Minaj, worked as a television host on BET and produced her own mix tapes.
“I have a voice, because I’m in front of a lot of kids,” she said. “Sometimes people just want to be a part of whatever I’m a part of.”
Other DJs who’ve agreed to help Obama include celebrity DJ Cassidy, who spun records at the president’s 50th birthday party, the 1980s hip-hop star D-Nice and electro-house musician Steve Aoki.
In many cases, DJs are closer to their fans than A-list celebrities and musicians. They are regular voices on urban radio, the central figures in the hottest night clubs and among the most well-known local celebrities in many places, said Debra Lee, president of BET.
“It’s very smart. DJs have taken on their own persona these days,” said Lee, who has held fundraisers for the president.
The Obama campaign also is talking to nightclub promoters in swing states, hoping to pair them with celebrity DJs and host “Obama night” parties. The group has hosted a block party in Miami — with a $25 entry fee or $100 for VIP access — to raise money for the man they call the “DJ in Chief.”
At the free block party on Sept. 8, Dunham and three other DJs spun records in front of a crowd of young people, many of whom have tuned out the television ads blanketing this important battleground state.
“We ordered from Caesars to pick up some pizza, and then we seen this,” said Marlyn Louis, 23. She held a free bag of popcorn in one hand and a snowcone in the other as she hopped to the song “Wobble Baby.” Louis said she already had registered to vote, but she thought the event was good exposure for the campaign.
Markita Wiley, an 18-year-old who lives in the neighborhood, was also registered but said most of her friends thought voting was a waste of time. “I’m trying to get them pumped,” she said, looking over at the party.
As the music played, Hot 107.9’s Abdul “DJ Damage” Muhammad said he tries to make the political events feel like parties. Instead of long speeches, he slips in quick, short messages over the beat.
“We motivate people to move and to dance, and we can also motivate people to do something bigger than themselves, which is voting,” he said loudly as the clean version of “I’m Faded” played in the background.
Ambassadors to youths
In the wrong hands, the DJ program could come off as phony, but “hip-hop music embraces the president,” said Mike Muse, who owns an independent record label in New York and has raised money for Obama’s campaign. “The DJs have a natural gift of being able to move a crowd. What better ambassadors?”
Earlier this month, Obama appeared in a pre-taped video that rapper Jay-Z played during a recent benefit concert. “Thanks for letting me crash your show, Jay,” the president said before praising the rapper as an American success story and calling on his screaming fans to vote. This week, the rapper and his wife, Beyonce, are holding a fundraiser for Obama.
There are clear risks.
Controversy sparked recently when Minaj, in the lyrics of a newly released Lil Wayne song, seemed to endorse Romney. It was Obama who cleared up the mess, explaining in a radio interview that she “likes to play different characters.” Minaj then tweeted her support for Obama and thanked him for understanding her “creative humor and sarcasm.”
Polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.