The State Department is presenting a global webcast on February 4, titled "From the Street to Mainstream: The Evolution of Rap/Hip Hop Music." The host of the webcast, rapper and State Department Music Ambassador Toni Blackman, will be joined by Pras Michel, a founding member of the hip hop group the Fugees, to discuss "how rap and hip hop have increased social awareness of the African-American experience — and raised even broader issues in contemporary society." Some of Michel's more inflammatory comments in the past raise questions about the appropriateness of his appearance with the U.S.'s music ambassador on a government-sponsored webcast representing America to the world.
In 2008, Michel was interviewed by Katie Halper about Michel's documentary Skid Row, which chronicles the rapper/filmmaker's experiences "undercover for 9 days and nights as a homeless person in downtown LA's notorious Skid Row." Michel lamented in the interview that the "African-American generation is lost. They're not being represented correctly." He found fault with Bill Cosby and Oprah for just "point[ing] fingers." He called Michael Jordan a "sell-out." But he saved his harshest words for some well-known black conservatives as he contrasted them with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama:
Somebody said to me you only like Obama because he's black. Well I can think of a couple black people I wouldn't vote for. I'm not into black power. And on the other end of the spectrum, you got the Uncle Toms, the Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice ... I'm not into that either. Obama is a uniter. He's perfectly comfortable with the skin he's in. He's not gonna sell out. That's a man of great principle.
Michel added, "By the way, I don't formally support Obama. I just want people to know I really like him." However, according to the Washington Free Beacon, Michel did go on become an Obama supporter, was a White House guest, and even became a founding member of Organizing for Action with a $20,000 donation.
Besides Barack Obama, Michel noted in the interview some other African-Americans he admires:
I love Cornel West. I respect him. But a black kid on the street don't have a clue who he is. Look, When Muhammed Ali came out ... the reason he's "the people's champ" ... is because he was defiant, he went against the U.S. government when they wanted to ship him to Vietnam. And he stood by it and people stood by him.
The Washington Free Beacon also noted some of Michel's remarks about his experiences in Somali in 2009 when he was filming a yet-unfinished documentary about Somali pirates and his ship was hijacked by those very pirates. Michel seemed to blame the U.S. Navy Seal rescuers for fueling anti-American sentiment:
Pirates invaded the ship he was on, the Maersk Alabama, during filming and took the ship’s captain hostage.
The captain was rescued by Navy SEAL snipers, who shot three pirates in the process.
Pras explained in an interview with CNN, that the Navy SEAL rescue actually foiled his plans to meet with the pirates, because it created anti-American sentiment amongst the pirates.
“We were supposed to actually meet with a couple of the pirates, but the capture happened so we had to retreat,” Pras said. “It has gotten worse because, you know, they rescued the captain, but then they shot three pirates, so now it’s a whole anti-American sentiment going on right now.”...
“They feel compelled to protect what they feel like is their waters,” Pras said. “They feel like the ships that are coming through are polluting the water and affecting their fishing industry. They feel like this has been going on for centuries, and they feel like they are taking matters into their own hands.”
“They have a compelling argument,” he concluded.
The State Department webcast is scheduled for February 4 at 8 a.m. The description of the live video webchat says in part that Michel will discuss "how rap and hip hop have... bridged the socio-economic gaps among races," and is billed as part of the State Department's observance of Black History Month.