Hip Hop Lost the Election!
"Our Kids Can't All Aspire to be Lil Wayne" - President Obama, July 2009
Image: Ricardo Castaneda
In an interview with ABC’s Nightline, Lil Wayne was asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter Movement. He responded, “I don’t feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothing to do with me.”
Eight days later the country elected Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.
With the world in collective shock and enough blame to go around, it’s still hard not to wonder: where was hip hop this entire election?
I remember waking up in D.C. on the morning of the Inauguration in 2008. All you could hear was Jeezy’s triumphant ‘Black President’ blasting out of cars; Jay’s verse, fresh off the remix press, cutting through the street noise. This was the culmination of anthems, videos, bars, monikers and DJ Barack O’Drama mixtapes released over the course of an overtly groundbreaking campaign.
In 2016, the only anthem was an anti-anthem. An indictment no different than the ongoing campaign at large. A rallying cry that sounded so much like a protest chant that it’s now begrudgingly become one: “Fuck Donald Trump.”
We get it. Hillary was uninspiring. Boring old white lady with the charisma of your friend’s stepmom who you know would snitch if she caught you roasting. Not a lot to work with creatively. She wasn’t Bernie Sanders. Yet her politics were basically Obama’s politics, even arguably more progressive.
In a WorldStarHipHop era, we all fell for the Trump trap – looking to tear him down, instead of building up his opponent. He became the election’s reality show villain, basking in the hate and coverage. Instead of winning $100,000, he’s now set to become the most powerful man in the world.
Despite a few posts, appearances and uninspired endorsements, our culture was largely absent when it came to rallying the troops. There was no concerted effort to get behind Hillary the way Killer Mike embraced Bernie.
Rather than release a “My President’s a Bad Bitch” or something to that effect, Jeezy made a lethargic Hillary endorsement on CNN that wasn’t exactly Voter Motivation 101. He fired off some tweets calling the Democratic nominee “a G” and her husband “a real one.” But Pastor Young’s sermon was preaching to a choir that may have slept through service.
After a successful anthem named after the President-elect, Mac Miller cursed Donald Trump on The Larry Wilmore show back in March. Five months later, that show was cancelled.
Fetty Wap, who typically espouses a refreshingly humble demeanor, went out of his way to remind us that “All Lives Matter,” seemingly tone deaf to the larger endeavor. He later apologized.
Harlem’s A$AP Rocky echoed this apathy when asked about the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. “I don’t wanna talk about no fuckin’ Ferguson and shit,” he told Time Out New York. “I don’t live over there. I live in fuckin’ Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.”
No one expects Flacko to be the next Malcolm X. One would just think someone from a neighborhood victimized by Stop & Frisk policies might relate to those fighting its advocates. To be fair, he bigged up Hillary in Billboard magazine, though, it didn’t seem to inspire the students at Yamborghini High.
Waka Flocka and Rolling Stone launched a mock campaign announcement that hinged on legalizing recreational weed – ironically one of the few progressive initiatives hailed this season as a legislative victory. (Though even that’s up for debate, as the White Devil is in the details.) Flocka later offered to support Clinton if she helped him promote his album, Flockaveli 2. Politics as usual.
When rapping about the criminal justice system, Uncle Murda has always espoused a call-to-arms for people to “Bang On ‘Em.” Which is why it was perplexing to hear him spit, “I’m rooting for Trump, he’s bringing back the Reagan era.” And that’s a good thing? Someone get Juelz on the line.
Russell Simmons wrote an open letter to Trump, calling him an “amazing friend” for over 30 + years that he no longer recognized. Makes you wonder who the amazing friend it was he recognized during the Central Park Five trial. More so, the iconic 2008 ‘Vote or Die’ initiative that Russell helped advise had no second act; no response to the massively influential MAGA mantra being parodied throughout the nation.
Ja Rule emerged to throw his basket of constituents behind the former First Lady, before immediately flip-flopping. “I like Hillary,” he said on Fox Business. “But, you know, it’s crazy because … I also think Jeb is a good candidate as well.” Crazy indeed.
When Jimmy Fallon was gleefully rubbing Donald’s hair less than a month before the election, The Roots offered not much more than a subtle dig, dropping a few obscure Erykah Badu bars.
I’m no better. Thinking shit was sweet, I treated the election as a Politickin’ joke, till the joke was on us.
When Hov followed Lebron’s 4th quarter call-to-action, introducing Hillary at one of her last appearances in Ohio, he made a diplomatic caveat that “this other guy, I don’t have any ill will towards him.” Even Jay wasn’t taking any chances.
Yeezy ranted that he birthed Kid Cudi, but not that Donald Trump doesn’t care about black people. In fact, he went a step further last week and announced defiantly to his sold out audience, “I told ya’ll I didn’t vote!…but I would have voted for Trump!” In the Arab tradition, someone threw a Yeezy at him. The irony of a such a weapon.
With most of Kanye’s comments, we take it with a grain of salt. After all, he’s entitled to his opinion and may be making a larger comment about institutionalized racism kept under wraps with the establishment’s status quo. Regardless, his comments vindicate Trump’s supporters who now have a legitimate racist leader that’s being normalized every day. No one man should have all that power.
If anything, Kanye’s flippant dismissal of voting heightens the false narrative that casting a ballot does not matter. That it’s the lesser of two evils. And that’s exactly what the boys at Breitbart want – a neutered, demoralized, disengaged opposition.
The desensitized trance we’ve grown accustomed to over the year of unhinged, racist gun violence seeped in deeper than we realized. It became a blur of tears, retweets and forgotten hashtags. Do black lives matter? Does my life matter? Does anything really matter?
And Trump kept banging it home, assaulting whatever faith we had left in a system we know is dysfunctional. One that we know is rigged for the Donald Trump Jr.’s of the world. Where people are being shot on the street (and in the schools). Hustling to make ends meet while big money runs the world. It was a war of messages: Hope vs. Despair.
And on 11/9, apathy won.
When Chance led a couple thousand people in his parade to the polls, it was too little too late.
The kids were staying home. Over 50% of registered voters under 30 failed to cast a ballot, being amongst the 40% of all registered voters who never showed up. Democrats lie, Republicans lie, numbers don’t lie. Maybe there should have been a sneaker release at the polling locations.
All the Coachellas, Summer Jams, Sixteen Tours and Smoker’s Clubs couldn’t move the needle. The rugged American individual story still dominated the conversation: Self Made. Big Rings. Major Keys.
No one is looking for Khaled to be the next Corey Booker. Politics in rap is corny, uncomfortable, bad for business.
But this culture is building off the legacies of The Zulu Nation, Native Tongues, Public Enemy, Organized Noize, Boogie Down Productions, NWA, Tupac Shakur. The latter dying as a kid – 25 years old – at the wrong end of a 2nd Amendment solution. Meanwhile, Kurtis Blow suffered a heart attack a couple weeks ago; let’s hope his healthcare plan doesn’t become a GoFundMe link.
It’s been 20 years since Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth – a reflection of the AmeriKKKan nightmare. Until the culture can leverage its collective influence to inspire actual political participation, it was all a dream.
Hip hop does have power. The power to change lives, culture, the world. But in 2016, it didn’t
have the power to change laws.
By 2020 we might win some, but make no mistake, we just lost one.