Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will Obama make hip-hop more presidential?

Posted By on 01.21.09 at 05:30 PM

Based on the number of tweets I've seen quoting it, the number of T-shirts referencing it that I saw at last night's Mikkey Halsted Web-site release party, and the number of times I heard someone there rapping a line from it, I'd say that "My President Is Black" is clearly the semi-official theme song of hip-hop in the early days of the Obama administration. The mood last night was one of ebullience mixed with a certain level of disbelief that we now have a president who has Jay-Z on his iPod.

Several Jay-Z versions of the song and one by Young Jeezy (with Jay-Z) are available over at Nah Right. The Jeezy/Nas version is here.

During Obama's campaign a lot of political commentators--especially conservative ones, no surprise--voiced concern over his love of hip-hop. What did that say about his judgment? Should we back a candidate who's been exposed to the unsavory lyrical content of gangsta rap?

Personally I'm less curious about hip-hop's effect on Obama--last time I checked he wasn't an impressionable 11-year-old, and anyway 11-year-olds are generally less impressionable than we make them out to be--than I am about Obama's effect on hip-hop.

With the exception of political outliers like Dead Prez, the rap world is by and large celebrating the entrance of a hip-hop advocate into the highest levels of the political establishment. Last year pro-Obama songs emerged from every imaginable corner of the pop-music landscape, but few genres made as much noise as hip-hop--even rappers who mostly rely on paranoid thug posturing dedicated verses, songs, and entire mix tapes to Obama.

If this new theme of positivity and uplift manages to survive the rapid churn of trends in hip-hop and persist beyond Obama's first hundred days, it might be the beginning of the end of gangsta rap's supremacy. If Obama can inspire Young Jeezy to turn his one-track mind away from coke slinging long enough to dedicate whole verses to politics, who knows what else he can do?

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