During the 2008 presidential election, many from the political left and right insisted a straight line be drawn from Barack Obama directly to the “hip-hop community.” These folks, regardless of their political affiliation, often pointed to Obama’s race, his age, his claim to have Jay-Z in his iPod and his infamous brushing the dirt of his shoulder in South Carolina as proof that Obama had the makings of the first “hip-hop president.”
In his race-baiting piece “Hip Hop President,” conservative critic, Craig Smith wrote, “I can see it now. Air Force Ones decked out with 22s and spinners. Maybe even a set of hydraulics.
Watching the hip-hop president in the Oval Office with his baseball cap on backward copping a gangsta lean in the big chair. Should be really pimp, don’t you think?” Smith ended his piece, “And every day he is on the campaign trail dissing America, more Americans will realize he is not the savior. He is merely Barack Obama…hip-hop senator from Illinois.”
In the rush to scare white Americans away from supporting Obama, Smith conveniently ignored Obama’s consistent critiques of hip-hop music culture.
WATCH: MUSIC CRITICS AND REPORTERS DISCUSS OBAMA & HIP-HOP:
At Vernon Park Church of God, way back in 2007, Obama said, “I don’t think that the hip-hop community is responsible for youth violence, but I think they haven’t fully stepped up to the responsibilities to change the attitudes among youth.”
While a populace that grew up rocking to hip-hop has overwhelmingly supported Obama, many have taken the question of what would it really mean for a sitting president of the United States to also be hip-hop’s president to task.
AllHipHop‘s able founder, Chuck Creekmur told theGrio, “I can’t say that Barack is the hip-hop president. If we had a president who was truly hip-hop then I think a lot would be different. Chuck D is president of hip-hop.”
Chuck D also encouraged a lot of us to fight the power and never believe the hype. Hence, I want to agree with Creekmur. But I can’t. Hip-hop is not a nation state; Like Al Qaeda, it has no borders. Like the Internet, its impact can not be quantified or regulated. And like nothing else on this planet, hip-hop is a paroled self-reflexive local music and culture that has taught folks around the globe how to talk, walk, rhyme, write, love, like, hate, hype, destroy, build and front.
In some ways, the question of “Is Obama hip-hop’s first president” foregrounds Obama while reducing hip-hop to a wholly digestible and synthetic community. A more provocative and revealing question than ‘is Obama hip-hop’s first president’ might be ‘is hip Hop more important than any American president?’
If so, how do we use hip-hop to transform ourselves, neighborhoods, cities, states and nations in just ways that might have little to do with American and global politics?
Cool vs. Hip (Hop)
There’s a definable difference between cool and hip. Has there ever been a political figure to embody and embrace coolness more than Barack Obama? Obama used his cool demeanor as both shield and sword on his way to the White House. Most members of the supposed “hip-hop community” saw this and we understood. But does his coolness translate into hip? And do we even want it to? Athena Jones, of NBC News, says no.
“Apart from his race, I’m not sure what it is specifically about Obama that would make people want to call him the first hip-hop president. Having covered since the Spring of 2008 up till now, my sense is that he’s more of a square guy,” said Jones
Kevin Powell, a magnificent, thoughtful young politician with the potential of really becoming a congressman who identifies with hip-hop culture, goes even further in distinguishing it from President Obama.
“Were there elements of hip-hop around Barack Obama’s campaign in ’08?” Powell rhetorically asked. “Absolutely. I love Barack Obama, let me make that very clear. In fact, it’s all those young people who grew up on pop culture and hip-hop who made that election happen in 2008…. Just because someone listens to hip-hop doesn’t mean they’re hip-hop, it doesn’t mean that at all.”
Powell is among a small, but growing number of young politicians invested in transforming local communities and Politics with and without Hip Hop culture. He and Athena Jones lead us to another question, however. Do you want the president of your country to be first president of a music and culture you love?
Uh … no, thanks. I’m good, bruh.For the rest of this analysis, click here.