The Obama Era of Hip-Hop

In 2008, the United States saw its highest voter turnout rate in young voters for the first time in 35 years. Celebrities of different statuses and backgrounds banded together to help campaign for the first Black president, with quite a few of those artists stemming from the hip-hop industry. In fact, Obama encouraged the use of this unlikely culture in politics, and it proved to have a strong impact. Young adults all over familiarized themselves with him through lyrics, falling in love with his charisma and optimism. Unfortunately, not everyone was enthusiastic about this introduction of hip-hop into mainstream politics. And let’s be clear, hip-hop has always been political. Whether it was commenting on racial inequality or exposing issues with authoritative figures, hip-hop has always been up-to-date with the political climate of the United States. But now, it has been at the forefront, receiving news coverage and getting noticed by politicians everywhere. And although one may disagree with Obama’s actions or beliefs, he was presidential. He inspired change. And he’s sure as hell better than what we have now. So as we get closer to the November election, I want to highlight some of Obama’s best hip-hop moments and reminisce on when we had a president in office, and not a disgusting, horribly spray-tanned piece of shit.

Bill Clinton was one of the first presidents to be praised by hip-hop culture. He was the first president to appear on Arsenio Hall, and he was embraced even more post-Monica Lewinsky because of how much it pissed off conservatives. For instance, in Lil B’s “Bitch I’m Bill Clinton,” he claims, “I’m Bill Clinton, fucking all these women/Monica Lewinsky, everybody loves me.” Master P and Snoop Dogg also reference the scandal in the track, “Lay Low,” where they state that “they call [him] Bill Clinton for all the head [he] got.” Similarly, Dave East raps, “Bill Clinton gettin’ head, you buggin’, you think I’m not,” in his song, “Bad Boy On Death Row.” I still remember when President Clinton listened to Lil Wayne and coined him as a genius. It was mindblowing for me, a pre-teen who loved Lil Wayne, to see someone that important commend this rapper, who used the word pussy more times than I had ever heard in my life. It was my way of defending his foul lyrics to my parents. Unfortunately, there was definitely a discrepancy here. In KRS-One’s “I Can’t Wake Up,” he envisions himself as a blunt getting smoked by different rappers, but then exclaims that he gets passed from De La Soul to Bill Clinton. While he obviously stands out as a politician being name-dropped among multiple rappers, it also shows how he was perceived as down with them. Because the elitists turned on him, hip-hop embraced him. But even then, he was able to get away with a lot of the things that he did because of the color of his skin. The fact of the matter is, if it were Obama who had a cheating scandal, the connotations would be completely different. In fact, in 2012, he invited Common to speak at the White House for a poetry event, which received all sorts of backlash. One small act caused so much outrage, and we all know why. The conservatives, especially Sarah Palin, were quick to attack, claiming that Obama was inviting “thugs” into the White House who were promoting violence and drug culture. Because a Black man chose to embrace hip-hop, it was all hell breaking loose for the conservatives. Politics were no longer seen solely as a White man’s game. However, in doing so, Obama found a way to involve the youth in politics and make it far more interesting. And although it would be ignorant to pretend that all of Hip-Hop was for Obama, it’s important to note his symbolic value during these times as we live through resurfacing civil unrest and resilience.

Young Jeezy’s “My President” was one of the most quoted songs due to its catchy, powerful chorus. Kids everywhere sang that “[their] president is black,” giving them the chance to share their excitement over history being made. It was simple, but damn, it felt good to say. It encompassed the swag that Obama brought to his presidency and showed that he was a man for the people. It humanized him, making him relatable for kids everywhere. In a more morose tone, on his song, “Black President,” Nas pondered, “what’s the Black pres’ thinking on election night? Is it, ‘How can I protect my life? Protect my wife? Protect my rights?’ Every other president was nothing less than white.” This foreshadowed the unfortunate double standards the president faced, including the questioning of his religion and place of birth. The racial remarks unfortunately extended to his family as well, and I think these past four years showed the reality of the chorus, “although it seems heaven-sent, we ain’t ready, to have a Black president.” The country wasn’t ready for a female president, and unfortunately, many weren’t ready for a Black man as well. It’s ridiculous to think that it took 44 tries to finally vote in a Black man, and even then, he was faced with so much disgusting hatred. It shows how little we’ve progressed as a country. But hip-hop artists like Common showed that he could be a sign for hope, rapping in “The People,” that “[his] raps ignite the people like Obama.” Even if some people were too close-minded to accept a Black president, others saw it as a time of hope and change. We see a closer look at this on Common’s “Changes,” a tribute to Barack Obama as he exclaims that “[he knows] a change gonna come.” He became a mainstream symbol for hope. Even Maino mentioned him in “All the Above,” rapping that “when [he thinks that he] can’t, [he envisions] Obama.” Obama was the come-up story that everyone needed to be inspired by, fighting all odds and changing the history of the United States.

After a while, Obama became the person rappers compared themselves to. He was a symbol of change, but he was also just super smooth. People thought he was cool. The beautiful irony of it all is the fact that as I mentioned before in Trump’s Downfall, Donald Trump used to be a status that rappers would want to reach. He was the richest of the rich, the fame and fortune that everyone, especially rappers, wanted. They aspired to be like Trump until he showed his true colors. However, in Obama’s situation, his status reached a new height once he came into office. He was put on a throne. Rappers wanted to be like him. Being president was always a notorious concept in hip-hop, but unlike our current president, artists actually wanted to be him. For instance, in Lil Skies’ “Bad girls,” Gucci Mane raps that he “woke up in a big old white mansion, [he makes] Obama moves.” Whether one agrees with his policies or not, Obama set a new standard of success for rappers, and it’s an admirable bar to reach for. Although they’re referring to his swagger and power, he still became an amazing role model in hip-hop lyrics for younger generations. Additionally, in the track “Yoppa,” by Chris Brown and Trippie Redd, their “Presidential [Rollies] got [them] feelin’ like Obama.” Even in the track “2 Seater” by Quavo, DJ Holiday, and 21 Savage, they mention that they “gotta move like Obama.” Gone were the days of posting up on the block and putting their lives on the line to make money; rappers were starting to make strategic and calculated moves. Obama’s street cred continued to rise as rappers like Vic Mensa namedropped him in the presence of hip-hop royalty. In his track, “Dynasty,” he raps that, “Hov the president, he flyin’ private in Obama’s jet,” commenting not only on the relationship between Obama and Jay-Z but also showing the politics of hip-hop. Even Jay-Z knows their relationship is a flex, bragging that “Obama on the text,” on the track, “On to the Next One.” Jay-Z is not only an elitist in the genre because of his position and wealth but in life as well. He takes it beyond hip-hop and put himself in a place to be able to befriend the president. However, in my opinion, it’s Ab-Soul’s “Huey Knew THEN” that perfectly encapsulates the way that Obama won over so many artists’ hearts when he exclaimed that he “[hoped he’s] in Obama’s iPod.” Obama’s playlists became one of my favorite things to look forward to each year, checking to see what songs we were both listening to. Whether you think he was a good president or not, you gotta admit that he has a great taste in music. It was one way to make politics just a bit more personable. What better way to unite a divided nation than through music?

Although a lot of presidents have been utilized in pop culture and mainstream media, Obama connected with a younger audience in a way that most politicians haven’t been able to. It’s helped that he was drastically younger than most, making him much hipper and in touch with what’s popular. But he also grew up on the Southside of Chicago, which artists like Jeezy referenced. In his song, “Hard,” Jeezy rapped that “soon the red dogs will give the block back to the presidents, I used to run my own block like Obama did.” He didn’t grow up with a rich or political family. His humble upbringings made him relatable, and then hip-hop made him a star of sorts. He became an inspiration for people who could not care less about politics; he made them pay attention. Ironically enough given his name is in headlines everywhere, Ice Cube even wrote in his track “Take Me Away,” that the “dream ticket [is] Ice Cube and Obama.” The Game referred to some of Obama’s policies in “Magnus Carlsen” when he rapped that the “Westside flourishing again, this what Tupac envisioned, Obama freeing lifers, that was locked in prison.” Just juxtaposing Obama with Tupac makes him more appealing to the youth, especially as Tupac was quite socially conscious. Wu-Tang Clan even went as so far as to use parts of Obama’s platform and motto, rapping, “if I could take a quote from Obama, change is better,” in “Wu-Tang Reunion.” Although it may not seem outwardly political, just using his name in a positive light showed a sense of support, which can be extremely influential for those that may be more impressionable. In Sizzla, Rick Ross, and Mavado’s “Mafia Music III,” Rick Ross questions, “a lot of yellow tape, where that Obamacare at?” when discussing the crime and violence on his block. It showed the impact of the healthcare policy, while also normalizing it and raising awareness for it. In doing so, more people were able to research the policy and form their own opinion about it, enabling them to either show their support or asking for reformation. By bridging hip-hop and politics, younger generations and those who may feel excluded or uninterested in the issues at hand can learn more about policies and laws that are directly affecting them.

“Hip-hop doesn’t hurt anybody. It helps people. Some of the nicest people in the world are hip-hop artists. [Obama] respects it. He loves it. It’s a part of his world. He is hip-hop. He’s a hip-hop fan that makes him relatable. It makes him real.”

Nas

However, it would be ignorant to generalize all of hip-hop. A lot of artists were not fooled by the idea that at the end of the day, Obama was a politician. To assume that a president was for the people simply because of his complexion would be presumptuous. There was plenty of criticism, and a lot of it was extremely understandable. Rappers like Killer Mike, who have always been vocal, but now more than ever, were rightfully skeptical. For instance, in his track, “Reagan,” Killer Mike opens up with the line, “the ballot or the bullet, some freedom or some bullshit,” showing that Americans really aren’t offered much of a choice. He continues to describe how Reaganomics fucked over millions, especially African Americans, with programs that enabled many of our issues today, such as profiting off of prisons. He continues to describe the “Bushes, Clinton, and Obama” as “just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters.” He describes politicians as puppets, spreading lies to the people that are expected to be putting their trust in these public figures. Similarly, Chamillionaire (who would’ve thought, right?) created a pretty clever song called “The Evening News,” in which he went on to give updates on the state of politics. He contrasts a whole verse about controversies such as the murders of Biggie and Tupac with the line, “the White House is going to stay white even though we know Obama’s Black.” The placement of that line was so calculated in the way that he highlighted the idea that just because Obama is Black doesn’t mean Black people in America are going to be fooled; the United States’ number one focus will always be White people. Hopsin absolutely debunked every single thing I wrote up until this paragraph with his song, “Nocturnal Rainbows,” in which he did not hold back. He dedicates a whole verse to the former president, stating,

“Obama’s president, so? What’s he represent? Just because the n****’s half black don’t mean he’s heaven-sent. You’re clueless to evidence and all the minds he’s messin’, with his charm and smile hasn’t got my ass up out this debt for shit. Frontin’ like he’s truly Jesus, and all you fools believe it. The change he’s making isn’t good, that’s just how you conceived it. It’s like we all broker than ever, it’s due to reasons. Dealing with self-beneficial plans and the movement he’s with. Illuminati, or whatever the fuck they go by, they’re the reason real shit happens, and we don’t know why.”

Hopsin, Nocturnal Rainbow

Hopsin definitely put his feelings out there, and it makes me curious to know his thoughts on the current administration if he felt this just a few years back. But it’s true, we tend to idolize the president, and Obama was no different. Just because he was a likable person, doesn’t mean we should ignore his policies and actions that had a negative impact. Dead Prez also commented on the situation with his song, “Politrikkks,” which also seemed to unknowingly foreshadow our situation today with the public presence of the KKK. Dead Prez begins the track with the question, “you got a Black man running, but [you] wonder if he get in, who he gonna open the door for?” He then goes on to describe Republicans and Democrats as the same, because “either way, it’s still white power.” He wraps up the song with the line, “even if Obama wins, Uncle Sam ain’t my friend.” That particular line is so haunting, especially when you consider Uncle Sam as an American icon. He was essentially a tool used by the American government to manipulate their citizens into fighting their wars when in reality, the government does nothing for them in return. Unfortunately, everything that these rappers have said is true. The United States has not done much for Black people, and we’re finally seeing the racist truth now more than ever as people are becoming bolder with their thoughts.

Unfortunately, a lot of the artists who saw Obama as a symbol for change began to share this sentiment as well. In Lupe Fiasco’s, “Words I Never Said,” he criticizes Obama for how he handled international affairs, explaining that, while the “Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit. That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.” Joey Bada$$’s “Land of the Free” takes on a similar, heartbreaking tone when he apologizes, saying, “sorry America, but I will not be your soldier. Obama just wasn’t enough, I just need some more closure.” I cannot relate to how he feels in that moment because I’ll never know how it feels to be Black in America and to be let down by your one bit of hope, but the overwhelming sadness that I feel when I hear that line is discouraging. In the Wu-Block track, “Drivin Round,” featuring GZA, Masta Killa, and Erykah Badu, GZA tells the story of a homeless man who has a “button on his lapel, picture of Obama, [but] four years later we stuck in the same drama.” This scenario depicts the fact that despite the hope and optimism a lot of people had, especially among minorities and the impoverished, their situations, which they thought would be getting better, hadn’t improved at all. Furthermore, Jeezy referenced his track, “My President,” in his song, “Streetz,” when he commented that he “seen a Black president, [but he] ain’t seen no change though.” I think that highlights perfectly the loss of hope a lot of people faced, especially in regards to police brutality and racial discrimination. They hoped having a Black president would reduce these issues, but they still seemed to occur without justice.

With that being said, a lot of those attitudes changed once again when Trump came into office. Trump was the antithesis of Obama, not only in policies (in the sense that he wanted to denounce every single thing that Obama did, simply out of spite) but also in terms of etiquette and probably musical tastes (he definitely seems like he’d listen to Nickelback). As a result, artists missed having Obama in office, simply because he was…presidential. And not a complete mockery of our country. For instance, in YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT,” they mention that Donald Trump “got [them] appreciatin’ Obama way more.” Similarly, in part two of the song, which featured Macklemore and G-Eazy (that’s right; he’s such a shit president that they had to make a second part with white rappers on it), they went on to rap that it would only “take a day to undo what Obama fixed up,” which unfortunately was not an exaggeration. He really reversed any progress that the country was making. Additionally, in G Eazy and Jack Harlow’s “Moana,” they repeatedly announce that “[they] miss Obama,” sharing the sentiment of millions everywhere. Likewise, Anderson .Paak sings in his track “Left to Right,” that “[he knows] you miss [him] like Obama,” conjuring up a pang of sadness in me that I didn’t think was possible. I fucking felt that, you know? However, I think it’s the song, “Don’t Shoot,” that really sums up Obama’s eight years in office. In the track, Swizz Beats raps that “they don’t really respect Obama out here.” That particular line reminded me of a news story in which Michelle Obama spoke about how if they did half of what Trump has done in office, they would have received much more backlash because of their complexion. And to say that that is false is to be completely ignorant of how they were treated during their term. As Trae Tha Truth, E-40, Styles P, Conway the Machine, Anthony Hamilton, and several other artists united on the track, “Time For Change,” they evaluated the current administration and political state under Trump, exclaiming that “sometimes [they] wish that Obama could’ve got reelected.” That song summarizes the hell-fire that has been 2020 and shows that while Obama did make some terrible decisions in office, no president will ever measure up to the disaster that has been Donald Trump.

As we gear up for the final Presidential debate tonight, I encourage all of my readers to re-visit my posts, Trump’s Downfall, and #45Lies. Please keep in mind that Trump’s Downfall was PRE-2020. These opinions were before the race riots, before Breonna Taylor, before the Coronavirus. These thoughts about our current president were before events that have shaken the United States as we know it. #45Lies will summarize most of what has occurred since then, showing how rappers currently feel about the president after he has spewed fallacy after fallacy. He’s proven that he cannot be trusted, and he does not have this country’s best interest in mind. Hip-hop has always been a counter-culture, even as it became mainstream. It’s echoed the voices of the misrepresented and the underprivileged. But it’s finally getting a chance to be heard. This is just one way in which we can listen to these artists. This post shows that the Obama-Biden administration was not perfect. It let down a lot of people, and Biden is not the ideal candidate. However, never did they receive death threats from their community. Even now, in 2020, some of the biggest voices in hip-hop are joining forces with Obama to encourage voter turnout or lending their music to Biden for his political commercials, especially those targeting music venues which are struggling. In Trump’s Downfall, I highlight numerous times in which rappers expressed far more than frustration towards the current administration. They are angry. We are all angry, and we are all tired. Please, do your research and exercise your right to vote. Even if you don’t think that your vote counts, remember that there are millions of others in this country that would die for that opportunity, but are restricted by the US from being allowed to do so. We cannot see change under Donald Trump. Speak up for them. Speak up for hip-hop. 

Although I have not spoken much about it, the beginning of October celebrated one year of Spice on the Beat. I have not been able to do this without you. If you haven’t already, please make sure to subscribe and follow to receive updates on new posts. You can always connect with me on Instagram, and never hesitate to share your feedback. If you could share these posts as well, I would appreciate it. I put a lot of time into these, and I try to make posts relevant to the current climate. Hip-hop needs to be heard, and it needs to be seen in a different light than that which it’s painted in. I’d also like to say a big thank you to the artists who I’ve connected with through this site; I’ve built some lifelong friendships from this blog, and I’m always so excited to see the incredible music that you create. If I can ever support or help you, please let me know. Even if I’m not vocal about it, (although I’ll always try to be; we know if anything it’s harder to get me to shut up), I’ll always be cheering you on.


I haven’t done this in a long time, but I’d love to list a few new releases from some of my talented friends. Make sure to show them some love. Please remember, this is UNPAID promo. Support the creatives in your life, we’re having a rough year. If you’d like a full write-up, please visit Submissions and Services.

M11son, Mavericc The Wolf *Spice on the Beat Exclusive First Look*

A.Rob42

Cloak the Scribe, CamQuotes ft. Ravo“Unify”

Kyle-J“SD”

Lectriq“Today Is The Day”

Ill DootsAge

Global Octopus “Off My Rocker”

Iso Indies“Tryin'”

Serious Voice“S.O.S. 2020”

Lucas Wolfe“Fire”

Eric BossBetter Late Than Never

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