Rep. André Carson (left) grew up as a battle emcee, dropping rhymes in the hallways of his Indiana school. He says his early days as Juggernaut helped him hone his communications skills.
That same year his grandmother, late Rep. Julia Carson, took him to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, where he recalls delegates urging him to break-dance on the convention floor.
As Carson evolved as an MC in high school, he went through several stage names. At an imposing 6 feet 5 inches, he settled on one that he felt was fitting: Juggernaut.
Carson also embraced the style and swag of well-known artists from hip-hop’s golden age, including Run-DMC and Rakim Allah.
Juggernaut would sometimes perform in a white-and-blue Adidas jumpsuit, dominant colors that also adorn the floor and walls of his Cannon office in Washington, D.C.
“I tried to stay in the latest fashion. [My hair] had waves or a part, with my name on the back of my head. Sometimes a Nike swoosh,” he recalled.
With a local and regional following in Indiana, Carson performed with several groups and was a featured recording artist with Catch-22.
As time passed, Carson’s interest in politics grew and was reflected in his song lyrics. He rapped about economic issues, government corruption and the perils of drugs.
“I wanted to make sure that it was a message that was never preachy,” he said. “You had to listen to my lyrics over and over to get the deeper meaning of what I was saying.”
At 22, Carson closed the book on his rap career to focus on school, a law enforcement career and community activism.
While Juggernaut is no more, constituents can still catch a reflection of Carson the MC at rallies and stump speeches.
“Having had that experimental stage, it was about the power of words,” he said. “So I think that whole communication process as an MC, has really evolved into what I’m doing now.”
For some, his word pictures cross the line, such as when he told a Miami audience that “some of them in Congress right now with this tea party movement would love to see you and me ... hanging on a tree.”
Others, including Indianapolis Public Schools Multicultural Education Director Patricia Payne, describe Carson as an electric speaker.
“He makes you feel like he is speaking directly to you [and] directly to your concerns,” Payne said. “He just gives you this feeling wherever he speaks.”
Though he now reserves his salad bowl of similes for the Congressional podium, Carson still takes pride in his lyrical ventures as a rapper.
“Once an MC always an MC,” he said with conviction. “It will always be a part of me.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.