When Hip Hop Attacks Politics: How Far Is Too Far?August 9th, 2012
By Arielle Loren
In the midst of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West angrily proclaimed that George Bush “doesn’t like black people” on national television. Many hip hop fans, particularly of African descent, cheered and applauded West for his bluntness on a slow response from the Bush administration to the landmark tragedy. However, few thought to question his criticism, as the unpopular president barely had any hip hop supporters.
With a new president, and a brown one at that, many assumed they’d hear primarily praise from hip hop artists, as the Obama administration came in with an attitude of change, accomplished healthcare reform and initiated better education policies. While President Obama does have famous hip hop advocates, including Jay-Z and Common, a few of the more underground artists have a bone to pick with the leader of the “free world.”
Admittedly, the United States is a country deeply rooted in capitalism and built atop numerous social ills. While many saw Obama as a superman and capable of restoring the U.S.’s reputation as a foreign power, others knew that a complete overhaul of the American capitalist system and end of foreign wars would be nearly impossible for a president only promised four to eight years. The POTUS has certainly made strides to reform Wall Street and unfair lending practices while also transitioning out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Yet, some of hip hop’s most “conscious” rappers have given the media delicious sound bites that land more like sensationalism than constructive criticism.
Lupe Fiasco has probably been the President’s most vocal hip hop critic, calling him a “killer of little children” and the country’s “biggest terrorist.” Understandably, the Chicago rapper is extremely anti-establishment, and told CBS’ What’s Trending that his biggest fight is against Obama and the USA for all of the “stuff” they allow to happen. Harlem’s Immortal Technique has also gone on record, saying that Obama is a “war president,” criticizing the limited progress he’s made ending America’s battles overseas.
Indeed, both of these rappers are extremely intelligent, packing their songs with strong social commentary and advocating for disenfranchised communities. Their voices and thoughts are needed and often applauded. However, they can come across as particularly harsh on a president that’s done more for this country than what we’ve seen since the beginning of the century.
Barack Obama was given a mess to clean up by his predecessor and decades of social problems to address. He also has access to national security measures many of us will never see, so perhaps it isn’t wise to throw him under the bus without considering everything we’re unaware of. The reason why we vote lawmakers into office is because we believe that they’re the best candidates to make decisions on our behalf, which includes the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Lupe doesn’t even vote, which arguably limits his voice on who gets to be in office and control the policies that he wants to see changed.
Hip hop is a powerful political tool. Rappers voices matter, and have rallied thousands in opposition and in support of various candidates. Should they be more conscious about how they deliver public criticism of the president and understand that “change” takes time? Or is it perfectly acceptable for them to make at times over-the-top comments, like saying Obama really isn’t the first “black” president, when we all know how race in this country has worked for years?