Much has been made of President Barack Obama being the first hip-hop president. Over a year after his election, it is probably time to ask, "What does that mean?" To be sure, many hip-hop artists have flocked to the President. Artists from Common to Nas and Young Jeezy, will.i.am to Joel Ortiz have produced songs in support of Obama.
And many critics have questioned what hip-hop means or even has to do with being President. See Sasha Frere-Jones, in The New Yorker, who takes a less than enthusiastic view. Slightly more positive is the Harvard Political Review, Harvard's undergraduate political science magazine. Opposed to the notion is Rosa Clemente who wrote an article commissioned by the Green Institute. Then there's Matthew Cooper's piece at the Huffington Post that seems to blur the line between honest reflection and mocking hyperbole. Also look at an NPR story on hip-hop flocking to Obama.
What are hip-hop fans, community members, and casual listeners to make of this? There's a danger in assuming that because President Obama claims to listen to Jay-Z, is relatively young, hails from a city with a strong hip-hop scene, etc., that he is able to or even wants to represent hip-hop. Let's not let our excitement from the historical nature of this election blind us to the realities of presidential politics. It's a big task to shoulder the entire hip-hop community and hip-hop isn't monolithic. We might see this as a stepping stone, but Obama can't do it all. Obama will not solve the world's problems and he won't solve hip-hop's. Health care and climate change are pressing issues. Police violence continues to be endemic in many communities. There's a struggling economy that needs desperate help. Even if we expect Obama to lead the hip-hop nation, it's not going to happen soon. It is not a priority item on his policy agenda.
Has Obama done a good job representing hip-hop? What does it mean to represent hip-hop? Do we often think of President's as representing musical genres or communities? Did anybody call Bush II the Texas president or the country music president? And if they did, what did that mean? Often times elected officials will make claims that they best speak for a segment of the population, but that is not always true. It seems that the hip-hop community seized upon Obama and not that Obama seized upon the hip-hop community. Sure, he worked hard to mobilize minorities and young people, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was targeting hip-hop.
-- Nick J. Sciullo
(Obama poster courtesy of eshark design.)