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President Obama (and Jay-Z) Defeat Hip-Hop Apathy

Jay-Z and Beyoncé with Barack Obama / Photo by @BarackObama

There were still plenty of moments of Obama support worth noting. Earlier this week at President Obama’s final campaign rally, Jay-Z adjusted the lyrics to “99 Problems”: “If you having world problems, I feel bad for you son/ I got 99 problems but a Mitt ain’t one.” Most rap fans called it cheesy, clueless old farts on right-wing talk radio pretended to be outraged. But there’s something special about Jay-Z performing his most misunderstood song — it is not a misogynist song and it never calls a woman “bitch” — in support of the president, while dismissing Romney with just half-a-bar.

On “To The World,” the opening track from G.O.O.D’ Music’s Cruel Summer, Kanye West changed Rick Ross’ “Hold Me Back” (“These niggas won’t hold me back”) into a mocking chant of “Mitt Romney ain’t pay no tax.” The Roots’ Dice Raw reconfigured the whole Rozay song for “Tea Party.” The hook became “These crackers trying to hold me back, these crackers trying to hold me back…fuck the Tea Party, fuck the Tea Party.” Dice also questioned the values Romney’s Mormon religion: “Mitt Romney’s a racist / Yeah, that’s a fact / You should hear what these Mormons / Think about blacks / Say you’ll never see heaven, unless you’re a slave / So if you a nigga, sit up straight and behave.” It worked because it’s just a pissed-off howl of frustration. It’s not trying to be clever.

Similarly, sampling innovator Steinski released a blunt collage of hot hip-hop instrumentals over stupid Romney-isms and called it, “Mitt vs. The Truth.” And for a moment there, Nicki Minaj had people worried when she compared herself to Mitt Romney on a Lil Wayne refix of Kanye’s hit “Mercy.” “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney,” she rapped, adding, “You lazy bitches are fucking up the economy,” leading some to think she was endorsing the Republican candidate. What she was really doing was brushing aside those lesser than her, using the language of elitist Romney supporters. President Obama seemed to understand this — “She likes to play different characters,” he explained to reporters fishing for a story. Nicki tweeted this in response: “Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do …*sends love & support*.”

Notice, that all of these examples of politically-engaged rap focus on Romney’s ridiculousness, rather than Obama’s viability. No one tried to do an update on Young Jeezy’s “My President.” Though 2 Chainz, usually everybody’s symbol for everything wrong with hip-hop, teamed up with Respect My Vote to cut a PSA telling convicted felons that they can restore their voting rights.

The day after the election, a video of Killer Mike voting appeared online. He filmed it at the church where he’s voted his entire life. He did it wearing a “I’m glad Reagan’s dead” t-shirt. It sure is hard to be mad at that guy, and typically, it complicates his cynicism. As far as we can tell, Kendrick Lamar did not vote. Though he did release an excellent rap album that makes good on the community concerns expressed in that video interview. I’ll take that. Lupe? Well, he is still Lupe. Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney and his victory very well could be the final nail in the coffin for the race-baiting, anti-women radicalism of the right.

The President also beat out the cynicism has taken hold of hip-hop in the past two years. His victory speech nailed the pronouncements about “how great this country is and blah blah blah” with just enough self-aware “this shit ain’t easy” thrown in there. “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated,” he observed. His inclusive reference to gay rights was also quite moving. But the ears of rap fans, I hope, perked up when in a list of those who America is “open” to included “the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner.” Though Chief Keef is hardly the only kid trying to climb out from under poverty, police corruption, and a bullshit-ass drug war, the teen rapper-turned-talking point came to mind. I’m doubtful Obama was referencing Keef there. But that doesn’t matter. The point is, we have a president who actually might know who the hell Chief Keef is. That’s not entirely out of the question. And how great is that? Our excitement revs up again. Keep it going. Remember Tuesday in four years.