Call Barack Obama “hip-hop’s first President” and your comments might be met with backlash. Some accuse him of abandoning the culture and community that effectively got him elected in 2008, while others suggest he wasn’t all that hip-hop to begin with.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Obama name-dropped Young Jeezy at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner, booked Wale to perform at his State of the Union address, and invited more than a dozen rappers—including Pusha T, Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross, who still had his ankle bracelet on—to the White House for a discussion on criminal reform.
Whether you look back on his eight years in office and see a “transformational success” or, like Diddy and Jeezy, feel like you’ve been sold false hope, there’s no denying Obama has bridged the gap between hip-hop and politics like no other President has (and will, at least in the next four years).
As he continues to make the rounds on his farewell tour (*sheds single thug tear*), Obama phoned into Sway In the Morning this week to discuss sports, voting and, of course, Clinton versus Trump. During his conversation with Sway (who famously interviewed him at the White House four years ago), Obama also offered his latest assessment of the hip-hop landscape.
I think the young guys, Kendrick and Chance, are doing amazing work. I love Drake and the girls love Drake, so he’s commercially just doing great and [is] unbelievably talented. And you know, Jay Z’s still the king. He’s got a track record—same with Kanye. So yeah, there’s a lot of talent out there.
But when I look at who’s breaking new ground, Kendrick and Chance, those guys are doing just amazing work and they’re wonderful young men.
It’s hard to argue with Obama, and not just because he’s the President. I mean, what can you say about Kendrick Lamar that hasn’t been said already? He has everything you want from an emcee: lyrical chops, hit records, classics albums, passion for the craft, progressive artistry and an eye on both politics and the party. Last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly was a GRAMMY-winning masterpiece that made an impact on the streets all the way to the White House speakers.
If Kendrick Lamar is the king, then Chance The Rapper is the prince. “Breaking new ground” is his thing: he was the first indie artist to perform on SNL, the first rapper to throw his own festival at the White Sox stadium, and the first artist to have a stream-only album chart on the Billboard 200. Lil Chano plays—and wins—by his own rules while forcing the game to catch up to him. We’ve known Chance wouldn’t fail way before he met Kanye West. Even Obama’s been bumping Acid Rap.
That’s not to take anything away from Drake, though. The guy’s had an absolutely monster year, killing the charts with his VIEWS album, dominating airwaves with songs like “One Dance” and “Controlla,” and breaking records held by Michael Jackson and Eminem. The crazy part is, he’s not even finished.
But like Obama said, “he’s commercially just doing great.” Sure, “One Dance” is the biggest song in Spotify history and VIEWS is triple Platinum, but has Drake even inched the envelope forward this year? VIEWS was supposed to be Aubrey’s The Blueprint or MBDTF, a top tier rapper dropping his magnum opus in his prime. Instead, he gave us a regressive album that sounded like the lost sequel to Take Care. Maybe that’s why Drake is so quick to put out another project (sorry, playlist) before the end of the year?
But we’re not here to spark the Kendrick versus Drake debate (Obama already settled that discussion last year). We’re here to celebrate the fact that a sitting President is discussing hip-hop with Sway and giving props to guys like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper. Hillary Clinton may be getting support from Jay Z and Pusha T, but she probably thinks 92 bricks means a renovation job on the White House. Don’t ask Donald Trump about bricks, because you’ll just get him started on that fucking wall.
Obama’s only got 84 days left, folks, so cherish them. ‘Cause it might not be another four years ‘til we see hip-hop back in the White House (vote for Kanye!)
By Andy James. Follow him on Twitter.