The history books only showed me white faces in the White House, maybe that’s why in my 17 years of living the notion of a black president never seemed possible. I was a child during the days of Clinton, a teenager during the age of Bush, they were the only presidents that I saw with my own two eyes. One was a Democrat that the people who surrounded me adored, what I recall about his presidency can be summed up in a 26 second audio clip that I heard every time I downloaded a virus from Limewire. The other was a Republican loathed by everyone I came across, I remember him most for 9/11, Katrina, Kanye West and Lil Wayne.
When you’re young you believe the president to be all powerful, a superman of sorts, and then you get older and realize he’s just another mortal who gets elected for making promises. The process reminded me of stepping into a job interview, where you’re judged based off your resume and how well you can persuade the interviewer that you’re the right man for the job. It’s about saying all the right things, casting an illusion with your words, it’s a feeling politicians give me when they speak. For that reason I couldn’t trust them, they’re lucky I’m not Metro Boomin.
Then Jeezy said it, he called Barack Obama his president. He personalized his relationship with a potential commander-in-chief candidate who was a black man much like himself, much like myself. It almost seemed like he crowned him the personification of Fubu, for us by us. I was too young to vote with cynical views that politics is full of liars and con-men. The TV was on B.E.T more than CNN, MTV more than Fox News, I'd rather listen to Thug Motivation 101 than suffer through an episode of The O'Reilly Factor. In my eyes Jeezy has always been a purveyor of the real, an advocate of authenticity, his trust isn’t publicized for just any man. His belief in Obama made me want to see what he saw.
Diddy affected my views on voting when he was voicing “Vote or Die.” I was only 13 during the 2004 campaign but watching him explicitly preach and promote the importance of hitting the polls made it feel like a future altering decision. The “or die” only made it seem even more extreme, sometime that’s what it takes to send a message. I remember other campaigns like MTV’s Choose or Lose and the 2008 Respect My Vote. Especially the way hip-hop rallied behind Barack really influenced my early views on voting and it’s important as a privilege to take seriously. This was a community that I trusted, figures that I watched and followed, far from the best role models but they were able to reach me despite my resistance not to mingle with the sharks in suits.
Eight years have gone by since Barack Obama became president. I remember the day that it was announced that Obama won, I played Jeezy at a volume that could wake a sleeping Snorlax and when I rapped along to “My President is Black” it was no longer a dream or a hopeful premonition but an absolute fact. Naively, I thought there would be parades in the streets as if we won the Super Bowl, fireworks as if July 4th came early, but nothing of the sort occurred. I’m almost certain in every home that voted for him there was an intimate celebration for the first of what we hope would be many changes to come.
I remember the day he was inaugurated during my senior year, for the first few periods no work was done, we sat at our desk and tuned into the news. There was this gnawing, morbid feeling that something bad would occur. Maybe it was too many movies, an imagination gone wild, but I thought of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., as he stood at the podium I prayed that a red dot wouldn’t come across his forehead. For once I wanted a live President more than the dead ones to represent me. Nothing happened, no physical harm ever befell him. There’s been disrespect, blatant racism, but never any harm. It’s weird to think that we are in the last days of his presidency, growing closer to the final days of a black family no longer being in the White House.
The man who promised changes brought a few of them into fruition. He wasn’t perfect but no president is. We didn’t vote for Merlin but a man, a mortal, who isn’t able to cast spells and rewrite the world we live in. Our views didn’t always match up but Obama never stopped being someone I could believe in. He also never turned his back on Hip-Hop. He embraced the rappers the best way he could instead of shunning them once he was elected. Wale opening up his final State Of The Union is historic and now it’s been announced that J. Cole will be performing during a presidential dinner during SXSW. They haven’t always agreed but Kanye gave him a pair of Yeezy’s, he met Kanye West so Obama is never going to fail.
Not everyone in hip-hop still views him with the same optimism as they did prior to the election though. Jeezy spoke out last year to Vulture about not seeing a big enough change. He acknowledged the good he’s done but his expectations weren’t met. MTV changed the name of their Choose Or Lose campaign after polls showed that voters chose and still felt like they lost. It’s understandable, Obama was both a figure of promise and a symbol for hope that made him appear to be almost mythical. He wasn't the man Kanye spoke of on "Power." Diddy made headlines last year for his updated views on voting and politics, now seeing them as bullshit. In an interview he still encourages kids to get out and vote, that the youth still had the power to make a difference, but it lacks the fire that he showcased previously. With MTV and B.E.T no longer the platforms they once were and the former figures that once motivated me to be active and aware appearing to be more cynical than hopeful, it’s been a strange election without their positive reinforcement.
“I’ve said [on the song “Streetz”] that I’ve seen a black president, but I didn’t see change. Not the change I was expecting. Like everybody else, I thought we were gonna wake up and it was gonna all be better. I don’t question that some people have been affected by what he’s done, but some people weren’t.” - Jeezy
I’m older now, more informed, but it’s peculiar coming to terms that Barack isn’t an option. He's the only president I've known as an adult. The person I’ll be voting for this year is a stranger, someone making promises to gain my trust, gain my vote. Since I grew up in a house of Democrats, it’s pretty ingrained to lean toward the elephant, especially when Donald Trump is running as the donkey.
Joey Bada$$ appeared on Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show last year and talked a bit about the upcoming race. This year will be his first time being eligible to vote, reminding you how young he is and that most of his life has been spent with Obama at the head. The conversation caters around seeking a candidate that’s relatable and authentic, both are important to Joey but ultimately he wants to vote for someone that will use their position to resolve issues happening for black Americans, police brutality being a major point of interest. I agree, I want my next President to be adamant about fixing the justice system, mass incarceration, and assist in making sure tragedies like the one in Flint, Michigan are swiftly rectified. There's been too many incidents and altercations that have ended in death due to gun violence and the only wielders being police officers with no consequences. It’s good to see Joey speaking up on these matters, he knows what’s important to him and other young voters.
Joey isn’t the only rapper speaking out on politics. The biggest political voice in hip-hop has become Killer Mike. Unlike Joey, Mike Bigga knows who has his vote and he’s doing everything in his power to bring awareness to Senator Bernie Sanders. It all started when Mike reached out to Bernie via Twitter and the two sat down in Atlanta, specifically in Killer Mike’s barbershop, and spoke for over an hour on Bernie’s plans as President. The six-part interview is very informing, I wish every candidate would be forced to sit in that hot seat and speak with Mike. I didn’t know much about Bernie, for a while I struggled with his age and the fact he sorta resembles Carl Fredricksen from the Disney movie “Up.” At 74-years-old most are well into retirement and not attempting to be stressed and strained by the most mentally taxing job in the world. If eight years gave Obama hair full of greys, imagine what four could do to Bernie?
Hearing him speak with Mike, it became increasingly clear that this man had a passion that really burned about fixing the issues that plagued this country. His time on Earth has been spent fighting, he’s the only candidate that marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and continued to march and fight long after his assassination. Killer Mike compares a lot of his views and values to Martin, seeing similarities in their principles toward the middle class, workers rights, health care and education. After the interview was completed, Mike has gone full scale to show his support. Hearing him speak out at rallies with such passion is enough to send you researching. Which is what I love, sometimes it takes one person to show you what they see before your eyes can truly be opened.
Killer Mike also opened my eyes to an incident that happened with Hillary Clinton and a Black Lives Matter activist during a private event. Ashley Williams infiltrated and interrupted Hillary’s dinner by confronting her about a speech she gave in 1996 that framed urban youth as violent and emotionless “Super Predators” to further push an incarceration agenda. Her reaction was shocked, annoyed, and she avoids actually touching the subject. As Ashley is being escorted away Hillary says, “Now back to the issues.” Killer Mike juxtaposed this incident with one where Bernie found himself in a similar situation, an intense confrontation that occurred in Seattle between Bernie and two women from the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of attempting to get them removed he allowed them to speak on issues plaguing black people in Seattle. The protesters screamed because society had largely denied them a voice and Bernie sat and listened. It showed that Bernie is humble and patient and will listen to the troubles of the people. It put both him and Hillary in a new light for me and one of them didn’t have to dab or nae nae to get my attention.
Politics is a lot to swallow and it moves at a swift pace that's even impressive compared to an over-saturated music industry. There’s facts to check, history to review, characters to assess, but you have to be informed and updated. It’s very easy to assume there’s no hope, that it doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t affect you. I'd much rather vote for the change and be disappointed than be forced to regret what was given to me by my passivity. Politics are fake, bullshit, but so is the music industry and somehow we are able to find the good.
Believing in Obama is what got us our first black President. It won't be until the smoke clears that we'll be able to deem his presidency good or bad, but to see that change is one reason I never regretted voting that day. He was my president and I'm proud. I'm still not the most informed and struggle keeping up with the Clintons more than the Kardashians, but I plan to be on it for the next few months because we have to find someone else to believe in.
Hopefully, we all can agree that Trump is the kind of president that comes from the future to kill in sci-fi movies, he'll surely bring the apocalypse that Kanye is making clothes for. It's more than just Joey and Killer Mike who are speaking out, and I'm certain that as we move closer to November more rappers and activists will be raising awareness and reminding the culture that our vote matters. After all, what's more hip-hop than hoping we can escape the circumstances of our birth and find a better future?
By Yoh, aka 3rd Term Obeezy aka @Yoh31.