Hip-Hop Barack: How Obama Embraced Rappers During His Presidency
The days of President Obama as America’s commander-in-chief are quickly dwindling. It won’t be long before the White House is home to a new president and their family - a thought that is difficult to fathom after eight years with Barack. A few months ago I wrote about how hip-hop being a voice outside of traditional political mediums epitomized the importance of voting. Rappers were huge advocates for Obama, preaching the man of change, the man of hope, the man of promise. The way the hip-hop community came together to back him was a huge deal. Rappers brought President Obama into their world and throughout the years the President has done the same.
Last night, during his annual Fourth of July barbecue, Kendrick Lamar performed for the President and a White House full of military members and their families. Kendrick’s set consisted of safe hits that were further edited to be even more family friendly. In the video, you can tell that Cornrow Kenny is cautious of his every word. Even after thousands of shows performing for our nation's President is unlike any other. The performance won’t go down in history as one of Kendrick’s greatest, but rather a huge moment in his career. I thought it was momentous when pictures surfaced of Kendrick and the Leader of the Free World together in the White House, I thought it was big when Barack said “How Much A Dollar Cost” was his favorite song of 2015, and again when the President chose Kendrick over Drake, but stepping on the stage last night topped them all. Obama’s final Fourth of July as President will also be remembered for Kendrick Lamar and Janelle Monae both the stage. The President is truly going out with a bang.
Wale made history when he became the first rapper to ever open the State Of The Union Address. Since Woodrow Wilson’s presidency every United States President (excluding Herbert Hoover) has given at least one State Of The Union speech and for Obama’s final address he wanted Wale to open for him. His history with the President goes back to being invited by Michelle Obama to be a speaker during 2015’s Beating The Odds Summit. The panel consisted of the First Lady and a few other established minds in hopes of expressing to young people the importance of furthering their education. Having Wale on the panel and speaking to the youth at the White House was groundbreaking both for the artist and for hip-hop. He also made headlines for being in attendance during the White House gun measure announcement back in January. It’s remarkable to see how often Wale has been in the President's company.
While Kendrick and Wale have both performed for and met the President, Jay Z is one of the few rappers who is truly Barack’s friend. Their friendship dates back to 2008, before winning the election, Obama’s admiration for Jay was well known after he admitted that there was plenty of Jigga on his iPod. Who could forget the legendary shoulder brush off at a time when Hilary was slinging mud? Brushing the dirt off his shoulders was not only hip but an homage to one of Jay’s biggest records. When Jay Z and Beyonce went to Cuba in 2013, Jay rapped in the song “Open Letter” stating he had clearance from the White House to go. Even though it’s the US Department of the Treasury and not the President that can give that kind of clearance, Obama mentioned the incident during his White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April of 2013: “I’ve got 99 problems and now Jay Z is one.” It wouldn’t be the last time Obama sampled and flipped a Jay Z lyric during a speech. Jay, on his end, has been huge advocate for Obama throughout the years. Not too many people who lose 92 bricks end up texting the President of the United States about sports but America has had stranger things happen in the White House.
Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Chance The Rapper, Wale, DJ Khaled, J. Cole, Rick Ross, Pusha T and more were all invited into the White House back in April to talk about criminal justice reform. J. Cole kept it incredibly cozy wearing sweatpants to the meeting, a feat that will be more legendary than going twice Platinum without features, and Rick Ross’ ankle bracelet went off during the visit, which is probably one of the greatest moments in his entire career. Of course he made headlines and was attacked for not only the ankle bracelet but the event that caused him to be wearing it. Still, I think Common got it the worst during his visit to the White House. Rappers are risky guests, and the media is quick to bring up their past, but Obama has always stood beside the company he invites. Admirable.
From Kanye to Doug E. Fresh there are so many rap artists who you can draw a connection to the President. Hip-Hop might not have a big part in Obama’s legacy but his face will be in the hip-hop history books. Hopefully the future continues to prove that rap artists can stand beside politicians and U.S. Presidents. We have come a long way since President George Bush warmly welcomed Eazy-E into the White House. A lot can change in 25 years.
By Yoh aka Yohseph E. Lowery aka @Yoh31
Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster