Following Tuesday night’s historic election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States, HipHopDX reached out to a few of Hip Hop’s most respected emcees to get their reaction to the election of the nation’s first black president, as well as their thoughts on how Hip Hop played an instrumental role in accomplishing that once unthinkable feat, and how our culture should direct its grievances against the national government during an Obama administration.
All the artists DX spoke to yesterday were clearly relieved when at roughly 11 p.m. eastern standard time on November 4, 2008 Obama was officially declared the victor of this year’s Presidential contest, marking the beginning of the end of the tumultuous presidency of George W. Bush.
“Congratulations to every American, to every person who has endured the last 8 years of psychological oppression,” offered Queens emcee Consequence when asked what his reaction was to Obama’s win.
Like millions of his fellow citizens, legendary southern spitter Bun B was deeply touched by the magnitude of the history made on Tuesday. “[Watching] last night I felt like everybody had to [want to] shed a tear,” said Bun. “It was a few seconds of shock. And after it really set in it [was] a real feeling of elation, not so much a jump up and down and scream [feeling], but like a real sense of accomplishment.”
That accomplishment was at least in some part facilitated by a three-decade-old culture that has united Americans of all races and backgrounds.
“I think it’s important that Hip Hop not understate its role,” said one of the culture’s most powerful political voices, Killer Mike, of the Hip Hop generation’s influence over the presidential election. “I’ve always viewed Hip Hop, because it was organized for young people by young people as an alternative to violence, as more than a music but actually the extension of civil rights. Because of that, Hip Hop has brought, for 35 years, people – black, white, Asian, Latin – together under the muse of music. And it has grown a generation of people who are so accustomed to being around one another that slowly certain myths [about one another] began to fall…So I think Hip Hop has a significant slice [of credit for Obama’s victory] because Hip Hop exposed us to one another before politics did. Hip Hop has done wonders in terms of breaking down the false walls of racial differences in this country. It’s brought us in big part to this point. Thank God for the art form of Hip Hop.”
“With Diddy and Jay-Z and Mary running around with the Obama [“Countdown to Change” rallies], I know they touched a lot of people, [even] me voting,” added East Coast jewel-dropper AZ. “This was my first time voting. And me standing on lines and seeing my peers, my A-Alikes, a lot of street brothers, it was like, ‘Wow, they brought out the whole Hip Hop community.’ And you know Hip Hop rules the world at the end of the day. [So] I know it played a major part in just bringing more people to [the polls].”
But in the wake of Obama’s election to the presidency, some are concerned that with Hip Hop artists playing such a vital role in aiding to obtain that victory they may now feel pressured, either by internal forces or external ones, to mute their criticisms of the national government.
“No, not at all,” replied Bun B when asked if rappers should refrain from being critical in song of Obama and his administration. “One thing about being an American is that we have the freedom of speech. One thing about being a citizen is that you have the right to criticize your president. That’s the whole point of a democracy is that it’s run by the people, and the people decide and choose what the policy is and who the people are that implement that policy. And with a person like Barack Obama, we have to hold him to a higher standard than we would normally, because of who he is and what he represents to so many people. This is an opportunity that has never been given before to a person of color. And because of that opportunity, and the many opportunities that are possibly to follow, he has to do very well and do right by us.”
“At the same time,” he added, “we as a nation have to really get into understanding how politics works and that there are certain things that he can do and certain things that he can’t do.”
Bun’s rap peers appear to be in agreement with that sentiment, that while much is expected of an Obama administration, artists and fans alike must be fair and practical in their critiques of the new president.
“It’s just like anything else, man, you gotta pick your arguments,” said Consequence. “You gotta pick the issues that you need to be addressing…I think we just have to pick the appropriate pain to make issues out of.”
“This is early,” AZ reminded. “All this is brand new, so we just trying to see that he’s in position for the right reasons at the end of the day. I know everybody’s happy that he’s there, but we still got years of suffering and pain and this one move is just one move. So we trying to see is it a concrete move, is it serious, is it genuine. We made history with the face, but now with everything else behind it [we have to] just make sure it’s legit.”
The ability of Hip Hop artists to challenge that legitimacy has already come under attack with the condemnation by some of “PolitricKKKs,” the latest politically charged offering from dead prez, wherein which the duo label Obama a “corporate sellout” and basically suggest he is not a grand agent of change, but merely a politician like any other.
“Well, Ralph Nader also said that Obama’s gonna have to choose whether he’s gonna be an Uncle Sam and essentially unite a nation, or an Uncle Tom and become a corporate tool,” said Killer Mike. “And I think that there’s merit in what M-1 and Stic[Man] say, and there’s merit in what Nader says. Before you jump down on these [critics of Obama] be weary, a lot of times the people that say the thing the loudest and it sounds the rudest, if you’ll only quiet your own mind it’ll make sense.”
“It doesn’t mean that you don’t trust Obama,” Mike added, “but everything has to be questioned…Like [Obama] said, he’s the president of us all. And because of that he has to answer to us all. He’s just as accountable to M1 and Stic as he is to anyone that supported the Obama campaign.”
In a culture whose most consistent call to action during the war mongering George W. Bush presidency was for the Hip Hop community to “make it rain,” it is unlikely that artists will regain their political backbone anytime soon and “Fight The Power,” especially when the power is now being overseen by a man almost every Hip Hop artist of record has dedicated a name-drop or even a full song to in the last year.
However, the artists DX spoke to insist that their rap peers carry on the tradition of protest that came to define Hip Hop during its golden era, even though “my president is black.”
Economy and energy reforms, job creation, unfair prison sentencing, and Assata Shakur being able to return from exile in Cuba are all issues Killer Mike will be watching to see if Obama gives priority to.
AZ agreed with Mike’s call to reform the criminal justice system, and the need for further adjustments of the Rockefeller drug laws. The Visualiza is also interested in seeing if Obama delivers on his promised tax cut, and encourages him to pursue legislation to increase the ability of minorities to obtain small business loans.
“The first thing that’s always looked at in a presidency is the first 100 days,” Bun B reminded. “[And] I think Obama’s first 100 days are gonna be scrutinized more than any president in history. So people need to understand that the problems that affect our economy right now can’t be absolutely solved [immediately].”
Consequence is less interested in the creation of specific legislation, or a timeline to deliver on campaign promises, but rather just wants to witness a return to a more promising, hopeful time in our country.
“Really putting back and making America what it’s supposed to be,” he explained, “where the average man can hope to succeed and do above-average things…And I think with the last 8 years some of that hope has evaporated because of the blatant robbery that we were being all subjected to.”
“I just wanna see him implicate everything that he spoke about,” said AZ. “I know it’s not gonna be easy, being all the obstacles he had to get past and there’s so much more to go. He got my vote, so we gon’ see what it do.”
For now though the artists DX spoke to are postponing dedication of too much thought to future policy concerns to enjoy this historical moment, a long fought journey that will be capped in January, when a black family will begin residing in The White House, which was constructed using African slave labor in the 1790’s.
“I’ve just never been more proud to be an American,” said Killer Mike. “And I don’t mean an African-American. I don’t mean someone who was brought here, was a descendent of slaves in America. I mean I am just an American. And I can honestly say that is something I never thought I’d feel like in my entire lifetime, to be an American without a hyphen in front of it.”