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Rapping for Keet

A campaign video goes viral.

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HE'S A FAN: Keet supporter Courtney "X2C" Ray.
  • HE'S A FAN: Keet supporter Courtney "X2C" Ray.

Here's the campaign season bellwether no one's talking about: How do we know Democrats are screwed in November? Even rappers are voting Republican. Well, maybe just one rapper. I'm pretty sure when Jay-Z and Nas said, "I feel like a black Republican / money I got comin' in," they weren't stumping for fiscal conservatism. And I'm just guessing, but I don't think when Bun B called himself "Big Dick Cheney," he meant it as an ode.

But 27-year-old Little Rock rapper Courtney Ray, better known as X2C, is by all appearances an earnest supporter of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet.

Almost two weeks ago, a music video for one of his songs started making the rounds on Facebook and local blogs. A few days later, KARK did a story on it that led with typical gravitas: "Could a rap music video impact the governor's race?"

If you've seen the video — which at press time had accumulated almost 1,600 views on YouTube — and you've watched the news enough to be able to summon a serious-newscaster voice in your head, you're laughing now.

It starts like a typical campaign commercial, with a snippet of Keet outlining his principles in an interview. Pictures of the candidate patting a baby's head and standing in front of podiums float across the screen. And then all of a sudden there's X2C in MacArthur Park with some ducks waddling in the background. He's wearing a rope chain and a glistening stud in each ear and rapping vigorously. His message comes in a slow reveal: "I know who to vote for / I'll give you a hint / Southern Methodist University graduate / He served on the UNCF board / Helped form the Martin Luther King commission / And he earned the Frederick D. Patterson award / A lifetime member of the Urban League / It's Jim Keet!"

That those eight bars of Keet bona fides — pulled almost verbatim from the description of the Black Americans for Jim Keet Facebook page (39 members at press time) — aren't the most tedious in the history of rap speaks to X2C's ability. He raps on beat, twists his accent to make incongruous words rhyme and, when he wants to, can rap faster than just about anyone.

The video gets better. When the "Jim Keet!" chorus arrives a minute into the song, a smiling white man spells "JK" in sign language. A hand pops up on the screen and explains, with motion arrows, the method. A succession of four individual black people do the sign. Later X2C, wearing a suit in front of the state Capitol, does it, too. As the video ends, two white women sashay away from the camera, signing over their shoulders.

I've followed X2C's career over the years. He's a member of Dat Heat, one of Little Rock's most respected rap collectives and one of the few that have flirted with national success. The first time I watched the video I figured he'd been recruited by the Keet campaign in a misguided attempt to gain young voters.

But when I talked to him last week, he said he recorded the song under his own initiative. For nine months last year, before he got a job working the night shift at Walmart, he was an unemployed former factory worker and father of three.

"Being without a job, with kids to take care of, and then recession and gas prices high — you've got to pay attention to what's going on around you," he said.

His original song idea was for a rallying cry for Governor Beebe. But while researching material on Beebe, he said he found material in which Keet talked about bringing businesses to Arkansas and keeping money in the state. Then he started digging into Keet's history.

"It was fascinating. I saw that he helped bring Wendy's to Arkansas. When he brought Wendy's, he brought jobs."

Video producer Roger Robinson, an occasional Keet volunteer and a Facebook fan of Black Americans for Jim Keet, said he received X2C's song in an e-mail from a friend and reached out to the rapper to make the video.

Both Robinson and X2C said they didn't get any assistance from or have any interaction with the Keet campaign, a point echoed by Keet campaign media director Richard Atkinson.

But the crowd scenes were shot at the Bentley Apartments, a complex on Green Mountain Drive owned by Keet.

Robinson said he didn't know that Keet owned the complex. A man named Don, who Robinson said he met at a Keet campaign event and later recruited to help with the video, arranged for the volunteer participants and location for that part of the shoot. The Keet campaign confirmed that Don is Don Lewis, the maintenance supervisor at the Bentley and one of Keet's best friends. But spokesman Richard Atkinson said that Keet was not aware of the video until after it first appeared on the local Tolbert Report blog.

By way of general comment, Atkinson said the campaign "thought it was great that a young person was getting involved in the process."

Coming next, possibly as soon as this week: A follow-up track by X2C that he says thanks listeners for the positive feedback and dismisses his critics.

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