“Would they have messed with Mr. Carter if he was white?” That’s been an unspoken question hanging in the air ever since a couple of U.S. lawmakers from Florida suddenly showed an interest in human rights when it might embarrass Jay-Z and Beyoncé — and by extension President Obama. Jay-Z left the question hanging but turned up the temperature with his magnificent, Blood on the Tracks-repping “Open Letter.” His withering response to criticisms of a trip he and his wife took to Cuba wound up requiring a statement from the Obama administration.
Now Pitbull and Common have each separately added their own rhymes to Jay-Z’s original track. And believe it or not, it’s Pitbull who offered the strident rhetorical question quoted above. The Miami rapper, who like most constituents of Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla) is of Cuban descent, shared a full, Spanish-sprinkled alternate version of the Swizz Beatz- and Timbaland-produced track. On it, he raspily assures Jay-Z and Beyoncé their Cuba visit was okay with him: “Happy fifth-year anniversary / Jay and B don’t worry it’s on me.”
Common added a verse to Jay’s original, and as you might expect it’s subtler and more allusive than Pitbull’s, pulling in Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Kevin Ware. Common also points to the time he, of all rappers, was the subject of a FOX News-led assault over ties to Obama. “They say I’m too black light like it’s lights out,” he reflects matter-of-factly, implicitly raising the same question as Pitbull.
The answer is is less clear: Remember, the Clintons were accused of murder and of hanging crack pipes on the White House Christmas tree, so politics was ugly before the first hip-hop president. But if the Cuba kerfuffle is causing rappers — even good-natured Alaskan exile Pitbull — to step up their game, then it’s already more constructive than “Accidental Racist.”