From ______ to Congress: Hip-Hop’s Influence During The Obama Administration

A tweet from the Co-VP of TDE, Punch, caught my attention a few weeks back that quoted Tupac Shakur. Read it below:

It’s not new to see musicians, artists, and other creative people at the White House. But, in the past fifty years, Presidents from Nixon to Obama have become well known for hosting performances, holding meetings, guiding tours, and starting partnerships with creatives that have had an effect on popular culture. According to the White House Historical Association, jazz and pop icons appeared at the White House for the first time during Nixon’s presidency. Musicians from other popular American genres were included over time: in 1979, President Jimmy Carter hosted a reception for Black music in honor of the creation of Black Music Month, and over a decade later, hip-hop/rap was represented by an artist that screamed “f**k tha police.” With the election of the United States’ first Black president, an increasing amount of hip-hop/rap artists have appeared and performed at the White House, but I truly think it’s becoming deeper than that.

Like Tupac hypothesized, hip-hop has started to influence the White House, and if it’s taken seriously, its influence may stay there for a long time. But, will it be taken seriously?

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President Barack Obama and Kendrick Lamar in the White House’s Oval Office in 2015. Accessed via Stereogum.

The progression of hip-hop’s presence at the White House has gradually risen in the past 20 years. In 1991, we saw Eazy-E of NWA appear at the White House for a Republican event. Surprisingly, there isn’t much information out there in terms of the Clinton administration about artists that appeared at the White House. But in 2004, Diddy aka Puff Daddy was invited by President Bush and his wife to go on a White House tour. Obama’s tenure saw a spike in the amount of rappers have been invited to appear there. Killer Mike and Ludacris have both appeared at previous White House Correspondents Dinners. Common was invited by the FLOTUS to recite poetry at the White House, but dealt with controversy because of a song that appeared on Like Water for Chocolate about Assata Shakur. Big Sean and Wale were the first and second rappers to perform their own songs at the White House, respectively. Big Sean performed at White House Easter Egg Hunt with Ariana Grande in 2014. Wale has performed at the White House twice: in 2015 at FLOTUS’ college summit and before the President’s last State of the Union Address

Outside of White House appearances, President Obama has been very connected to rap music. Other than listening to a lot of rap (including Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Drake and Kendrick Lamar), Obama and his administration have partnered up with emcees to work on national programs and initiatives. Wale sat on a panel to discuss college readiness with FLOTUS during his first visit at the White House, while Kendrick Lamar has become a part of POTUS’ mentoring initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, which was documented in the Pay It Forward video

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Killer Mike interviewed Democratic Presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in 2015. Accessed via Salon.

Even though President Obama’s second term is coming to an end, hip-hop/rap is relevant on the campaign trail, particularly on the Democratic side. We’ve seen engaged voters in artists like Killer Mike, who has interviewed Senator Bernie Sanders on his viewpoints and proposed policies, if elected. There’s been support for Hillary Clinton from 50 Cent, Jeezy, Waka Flocka Flame, and Snoop Dogg. We’ve also seen police brutality and other Black-related issues, such as race, voting rights, poverty, gentrification, education, and the school-to-prison pipeline, mentioned during debates, meetings and events due to the effect of not only engaged voters and non-voters alike, but from the music of rappers. Unfortunately, folks on the campaign trail have been attempting to do rap dances that may or may not be genuine, but I digress.

The issue that arises for me is how the Republican side will not only engage hip-hop creatives and influencers and vice versa, but how they will address the issues that affect rap listeners. Will there be another Vote or Die campaign like there was in 2004? Will #BlackLivesMatter members start interrupting presidential rallies again? Will more protests occur with songs like “Alright” being played to bring more attention to the issues? Will artists ask for accountability and become more active in supporting a candidate, just like other voters?

An even more important question is whether the concerns will be taken seriously, even from a rapper that sells 5 million records like Tupac did. Everyone doesn’t see, or better yet, want to identify the importance and influence of rap due to its stereotypes. Some of these concerns may have been taken into consideration during the Obama administration because he’s a fan of rap, he’s made connections with those creatives, and identifies with many rap listeners. But will these concerns be strongly considered by our next President, with the candidates that we have to choose from? It may be too early to tell, but I’m a bit skeptical of the candidates’ genuineness in addressing issues that affect everyone.

My skepticism of the candidates, however, doesn’t overshadow my belief in the importance of rap and hip-hop in pointing out the problems that affect the United States. Hip-hop/rap started as a way to address the issues going on in the hood and its politics, and even in its stereotypical form, it addresses those issues today. It’s all up to people to actively make sure that those concerns are voiced effectively and that they’re accounted for by whoever takes over the White House next. 

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