Hip-hop for President
A lot has been written about the historic nature of the election of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. In a campaign that seemed to go on forever, journalists and political pundits following the 2008 election and beyond have used the term “historic election” as code for the United States electing its first black president.
The media’s emphasis on Obama’s ethnic makeup is the same one-dimensional rhetoric that is and has been fed to the American public for generations. That This message misses an opportunity to highlight the meaning and depth of what an Obama presidency truly represents.
Hip-hop, at its core, has always been about perpetuating the potential of its culture by consistently challenging its listeners to go beyond societal limitations. In 1978, the year Hip-hop began to emerge, the previous 5 presidents were 32 (W. Bush), 32 (Clinton), 54 (H.W. Bush), 67 (Reagan), and 54 (Carter) at the time.For these presidents, Hip-hop was a concept that they had only experienced from a distance as grown men. They never really had the opportunity to see the culture beyond the negative stereotypes they saw rotating throughout the media. It’s safe to say that they weren’t exactly Hip-hop heads. By comparison, Obama was only 16 years old when Hip-hop first appeared on the scene and was able to experience the music both as a participant and as a self-professed Hip-hop head.
As any Hip-hop head will tell you, the culture penetrates all parts your life. It influences your work, your dress, your walk and your speech. It’s everything. After a particularly contentious debate with Hillary Clinton in the democratic primaries, Barack Obama demonstrated that point by actually brushing the dirt off his shoulders! In the end, everyone in the arena busted with laughter and applause as they were all in on the joke and more importantly they knew that he was referencing Jay-Z’s infamous lyrics!
There it was; a presidential candidate for a major American political party openly quoting a rap record on a major stage. The fact that he did it in North Carolina, a state with a very significant black population was no coincidence.
On another occasion, he encouraged black children to pursue other opportunities beyond sports and the music industry. “You are probably not that good a rapper,” he joked to an approving crowd, “Maybe you are the next Lil Wayne, but probably not, in which case you need to stay in school.” He references the “best rapper alive” by name! And he showed how in tune he was with youth culture by referencing a music artist that he himself subscribes to.
In both cases, he used Hip-hop references to engage youth culture like no other presidential candidate has ever done.
Especially in a time when we are transforming into a truly multiracial nation, the most significant aspect of the Obama presidency is that he is a product (or at least a byproduct) of the Hip-hop generation. He came of age when Hip-hop was going through its adolescence and as he was shaping his own identity. Which explains why young people relate to him so adamantly.
Just by virtue of Obama acknowledging Hip-hop as a legitimate art form is a watershed moment in the relationship between Hip-hop and presidential politics. Those young people who love and feel Hip-hop so intensely will now pay attention.
As Jay-Z said in an interview, younger people will sit down and have a conversation with this president because the dialogue comes from a place of understanding. He has a special position in history because he has the potential to engage young people and people of color that will be more socially aware and politically active than previous generations. Thank God for Hip-hop.
*This is Hip-hop’s Word::Govern your Life accordingly.
Video:: Obama Gets That Dirt Off His Shoulders!