Ronald Reagan is a political God in the house of conservative worship. In any television appearance over the past two years, Republican presidential candidates were found stumbling over themselves to pay homage to their flawless leader for the security and the financial stability they believe Reagan provided. Of course, this is not a new phenomena by any means. It is practically accepted in that Ronald Reagan was the end all when it comes to conservatism. The emergence of Ronald Reagan saw the GOP capitalizing on the backlash that 1970s debauchery, black militancy, and ever changing atmosphere caused by pervading racism, poverty, and the feeling that the country was regressing. Reagan offered conservatives nostalgic feelings about yesteryear and an opportunity to say “It’s morning in America again.”
The infamous “Morning in America” campaign ads that the Reagan-Bush campaign ran during their 1984 reelection bid depicts America in its greatest throws. The ad, narrated by an elderly, grizzly-voiced man, shows several Americans literally getting up in the morning to go to work while also conveying the metaphor of America’s resiliency:
“It’s morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history.With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future. It’s morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?”
Reagan’s mantra was trickle down economics, aggressive privatization, and rapid militarization. His “trickle -down” philosophy holds that if the upper class is taxed less, the benefits of those savings would eventually trickle down to the economically desperate through jobs and benefits. The effect of this policy was that Reagan could focus his efforts in aiding those with economic privilege by providing them with with massive tax breaks. While he espoused imagery of economic recovery, early Hip-hop legends like Melly Mel and Grand Master Flash challenged those notions in song.
Melly-Mel et al wrote dissenting arguments that depicted darker times marked by poverty accented by drugs, gangs, and violent environments. In their eyes, Reagan’s policies during the 1980s did not make them feel as if they could “look forward with confidence to the future.” The future they saw and did not reflect opportunities for work or home ownership, indeed, they imagined a future without landscaping and clean roads; a future where there was “broken glass everywhere.”
They saw the devastation that his economic policies actually caused and made it a point to continuously blow through the efficacy of his “Morning In America” claims with unrelenting depictions of reality. They were there, pointing out the hypocrisy of his message: “How can he say that we gotta stick it out/when his belly is full and his future is sunny.”
The genius of Hip-hop emerged first as party sport—the urban poor salvaging musical parts to create something entirely new—but soon morphed into an expression of grief and outrage as Ronald Reagan, crack cocaine, and gang violence sewed misery among African American communities, and ghettos from Harlem to Compton sprouted up on the map as MCs defiantly chronicled the uncensored history of Reagan’s America.
The coke laced tracks that often appear in the catalog of Hip-hop content lends itself as an example of the impact the coke epidemic had on urban areas during the Ronald Reagan Era of the 80s.
Many years later, rappers describe the legacy of structural violence that resulted from Reagan’s policies.
During the Reagan regime, crack cocaine had ravaged so many urban communities that whole communities were swallowed whole. For a generation of rappers, their childhood confirmed that a measure of success was based on who sold the most drugs. This is a role that Hip-hop artists continue to play in contemporary times: they have access to the intricacies of oppressed and distressed communities at the based level and are able to paint the picture that reflects that experience. The fortune of the Reagan Administration emerging at the same time of the Golden Age of Hip-hop meant that rap music was established as a means to cover and report on issues that were/are perpetually ignored or marginalized within the American cultural structure.
Today, rappers obsess over the impact of the Ronald Reagan Administration during the 1980s. Hip-hop plays an important role in creating spaces for illuminating what actual happens on the ground with the people. While he was out espousing about “Morning in America,” and the progress the country was supposedly experiencing, rap artists were illustrating the destruction of the black/ brown experience as a result of the crack epidemic.
Hip-hop was created in an effort o provide a comprehensive view of what is happening in urban communities. When it comes to the 1980s, the Dark Ages of black community in America, Hip-hop developed into the “CNN of the ‘hood,” as Chuck D likes to put it. Hip-hop is the few places to find unadulterated, accurate portrayals of the issues that were facing folks that were not compatible with Reagan’s “Morning in America” propaganda piece and more inline with underprivileged communities.
Hip-hop was the (im)perfect foil for the “Teflon President.” Hip-hop has been there to offer an alternate perspective of the administrations accomplishments and failures; undaunted by those who wished that criticisms of politicians be handled with more finesse. Thank God for politics. Thank God for Hip-hop.
*This Is Hip-hop’s Word::Govern your Life accordingly.