Beyond mentioning that Obama has dusted off his shoulders like Jay-Z, author Jonah Weiner does an admirable job breaking down the history of hip-hop's hatred for the establishment (i.e. Public Enemy), pointing out how Obama's campaign had an immediate impact (i.e. Jay-Z's "My President"), and predicting how a black leader of the free world will change a genre that prides itself on being the mouthpiece for an oppressed race.
Here's the highlight:
There is something inherently radical about hip-hop, period, a genre in which the historically voiceless command the microphone and, from the repurposed DJ equipment of hip-hop's South Bronx infancy to the artist-owned labels of today, the means of production. Obama's rise might weaken the position of those less explicitly political MCs, for instance, who rap about the allure of the drug trade in neighborhoods low on viable careers, or those whose gangsta tales make an implicit point about the conditions that create gangstas in the first place. Even an unabashedly crass commercialist like 50 Cent casts his boasts of alpha-male domination as a socioeconomic symptom: "Some say I'm gangsta, some say I'm crazy--if you ask me, I say I'm what the 'hood made me." Going forward, there may be less patience for this line of thinking. Our president overcame the disadvantages of growing up black and fatherless--what's your excuse?
So how have St. Louis' rappers responded to having a hip-hop president?
The most obvious example is Wafeek (technically, he lives in LA, but the dude reps the 314 hard), who dropped a track featuring Tef Poe called "Black Presidents" on his Aristocrats Mixtape at the end of last year.
Here's Wafeek's "Black Presidents," courtesy of the MC himself:
The track begins by proclaiming, as thousands of others already have, that Tef and Feek are the "Barack Obama's of the rap game." While Jay-Z has that title on lock at this point, it's a statement that's emblematic of the sea change happening with hip-hop boasts.
Instead of basketball players or actors, rappers can feel cool comparing themselves to the President of the United States. Other than Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who are mocked as much as they are admired, there aren't a lot of African-American politicians getting shout-outs from emcees. I certainly haven't heard anyone calling themselves "The Colin Powell of the rap game." It's downright refreshing to hear rappers like Wafeek spit lines like, "I'm feeling like the first black president/Barack the heaven sent," rather than the usual money/bitches/cars schtick.
"That lyric, we did that during the primary," Wafeek explains. "I felt like that's how we supposed to do it. If we look at him as a God we're not going to get anywhere. But if everybody says 'I can be president. I'm the shit' then it can evolve."
Other local artists have responded in different ways-- Ruka Puff headlined a hip-hop "Get Out the Vote" event at Fubar just before the election and Thunder, a featured artist on Rockwell Knuckles' album Northside Phenomenon was rapping about how he has "many promises to honor/handle my Barack Obama" way back in 2007.
For his part, Knuckles says he has never mentioned Barack in a rhyme and he won't be doing so anytime soon.
"It just shows the rabble rousing music community is seeing something they never seen before, and when they see something they never seen before they going to talk about it," he says. "I've never put Barack in a verse because every other rapper on the planet has done it and I didn't have anything different or witty or pithy to say about it."
Can anyone out there think of other local rappers who have lyrics or events that are Obama-related? Has Nelly done anything presidential lately?
Oh yeah, and this video is required viewing for discussion of this topic:
Support Local Journalism. Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.