Kathy Iandoli is a New York-based music journalist. Here, she discusses hip-hop’s tumultuous relationship with Republicanism, discussing contemporary rap’s widespread resentment towards Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.
For a very long time, Americans who weren’t fluent in the political process would equate political parties with respective tax brackets. So, in essence, a Democrat was poor; a Republican was rich. Maybe it had something to do with the value systems firmly set in place (liberal vs. conservative) or maybe it was really just a Black and White thing. In the 80s, when hip-hop was still finding its footing, the distrust for the system had reached an all-time high, and that “system” was a Republican’s system: the Ronald Reagan administration.
The crack cocaine epidemic was heating up on Reagan’s watch, and in 1982 a now-classic example of rap’s social commentary hit the pavement with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s The Message, which waxed philosophical on “junkies in the alley” and “broken glass everywhere,” comparing city life to a “jungle.” The legacy of the crack epidemic would, of course, outlive Reagan’s administration by many years.
Still, as rappers’ wallets expanded, the notion of where their money fit loomed overhead. In 2006, Nas and Jay Z would collaborate on the song Black Republican, which featured Jay’s lyric: “I feel like a Black Republican, money I got comin’ in.” Here, Republicanism is equated with success. Rappers have arguably been in a weird predicament. Reagan, many would argue, theoretically invented the crack game, which turned neighbourhoods impoverished and violent while making aspiring rappers entry level wealthy through drug dealing. They would obtain record deals, making music that discussed that crack game, putting even more money in their pockets and encouraging dreams of becoming part of the 1%.
But things changed with the Obama administration, where the onus was placed on race in the face of our first Black President. Jay Z had the crowd chant “Fuck Bush” in 2008 before Obama took the seat. In 2011, on Watch The Throne track New Day, Kanye West foreshadowed having a son, rapping: “I might even make him be Republican, so everybody know he love white people.”
But while hip-hop has always resented the system’s oppressive forces, the opposition to Republicanism became more pronounced as Obama reached his second term. On Kendrick Lamar’s 2011 Section.80 cut Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils), he would vent about 80s Reaganomics wrecking his generation. Killer Mike shared a similar sentiment in his 2012 track Reagan, as he sampled a speech by Reagan and chased it with “the end of the Reagan Era / I’m like eleven, twelve, or old enough to understand the shit’ll change forever / They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror / But it really did was let the police terrorise whoever”.
And in more recent times, the media has turned its attention to police brutality and racially motived violence: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland are just a few of the many black victims. With the Black Lives Matter movement gathering momentum as Obama’s second term comes to a close, political preference is no longer about money in the eyes of hip-hop. It’s about racial justice, and it’s about staying alive.
In 2016, multi-billionaire and Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump is hip-hop’s greatest enemy. Rappers used to use Trump’s name as a goofy reference to financial aspiration: see Gucci Mane’s Donald Trump (“Donald Trump! I made Forbes list this month!”), Mac Miller’s Donald Trump (“Take over the world when I’m on my Donald Trump shit”) or Rae Sremmurd’s Up Like Trump. But as Trump plans to build walls, rob ovaries, deport Muslims, and pass out guns like Halloween candy, hip-hop is, finally, speaking out on a widespread scale. And it’s not about the money. This time it’s personal.
Some of the pundits are the least likely in theory. In the recent video for 2 Chainz’ 100 Joints, the clip opens with anti-Muslim quotes from Donald Trump, before detailing the everyday peaceful lives of a Black Muslim family and showing 2 Chainz rapping while wearing an agal and keffiyeh. On YG and Nipsey Hu$$le’s FDT (Fuck Donald Trump), they chant “fuck Donald Trump” while promoting racial unity: “It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans / And if it’s time to team up, shit, then let’s begin.”
Across the board, rappers are voicing their anger. Raury’ performed with a crossed out Trump Mexican football jersey on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last year, Young Thug called Trump a “fucking punk” in a French interview and T.I.’s Instagram message to Donald Trump was a not so polite “Fuck You.” Rae Sremmurd denounced Trump onstage at SXSW, and Mac Miller called him a racist on The Nightly Show. Metro Boomin then got in on the action, when he exclaimed he didn’t trust Donald Trump. And well, if Young Metro don’t trust you…
It’s all coming together, and some rappers who may have never uttered a political preference before in their lives are speaking out against Trump. Sure there are some trolls—Azealia Banks’ Trump endorsement as a call for an evil empire—but for the most part hip-hop understands now more than ever what a Trump breed of Republican can do to the already tattered fabric of America. It’s a crack that can’t be bottled or sold this time. Rather, it’s in dire need of immediate removal.
Kathy Iandoli is the author of the forthcoming book Commissary Kitchen with Prodigy of Mobb Deep, which dissects cooking within the meager conditions of the prison system