Barack Obama was famously named "America's first hip-hop president." It's a title that comes off as a little cheesy but back in 2008, the rap connection was a large part of Obama's appeal for many young fans. The candidate talked about rap, played hip-hop songs at his events, got mentioned by name or indirectly in the work of rappers such as Jay-Z, Lil Wayne Ludacris, Big Boi, Common, Nas, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes. He seemed like a candidate who was going to speak truth to power no matter what the downsides.
Young Jeezy said it for a lot of believers with his song My President: "Tell him I'm doin' fine, Obama for mankind / We ready for damn change, so y'all let the man shine / Stuntin' on Martin Luther 'cause I'm feelin' just like a king / Guess this is what he meant when he said that he had a dream."
Obama was hot back then with MCs. Less so now. In the interim the-agent-of-change changed. Rappers weren't the only ones to notice. It became apparent that Obama-in-office had a different set of priorities from Obama-the-candidate. It seemed he would do whatever it took to work with the center and get the backing of that mythical demographic - the American middle class.
Supporters watched as Obama went the extra mile to reassure AIPAC of his cred as 'Friend of Israel.' Watched as corporate crooks walked free. Watched as the promise to close Guantanamo was put on the back burner. Watched as Bush tax cuts were extended. Watched as the Wikileaks saga unfolded... the incarceration and unlawful pre-trial punishment of Bradley Manning. Watched the extra-judicial targeting of alleged militants by drone - including American citizens.
Over time some rappers who had been big supporters or just those who cut Obama slack in the early going began to measure their words more carefully. Mixed feelings is one way to put it on the part of some. Outright condemnation on the part of others - Lupe Fiasco being one of the more outspoken.
In his sixth album R.A.P. Music Killer Mike called out Obama in the track Reagan. The connection with Reagan isn't flattering to Obama. Killer Mike told hiphopDX "I didn’t tie Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama together; Barack Obama tied him and Ronald Reagan together. Barack Obama compares himself to Reagan." Which is true... Obama has evoked the Reagan name, for example in support of his administration's fiscal policies.
Obama: "A great American said that he thought it was ‘crazy’ that certain tax loopholes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary." True enough. But seeking linkage with Reagan in order to make a point appeared to some to be inferring something more.
Killer Mike Reagan video:
The moves Obama has made in an effort to consolidate his presidency have been described with a variety of terms... politics-before-principle, necessities-of-power, realpolitik... but for a lot of people who believed in the agent-of-change compromises and inaction in key areas seemed a lot like selling out.
Lupe Fiasco hasn't been shy about putting it out there. In his single Words I Never Said we get this: "Gaza Strip was getting burned / Obama didn’t say sh*t / That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either."
When he was asked about his views on the administration in a CBS "What's Trending" interview he said that he regarded Obama as the biggest terrorist in the country.
In my fight against terrorism, to me, the biggest terrorist is Obama in the United States of America. For me, I’m trying to fight the terrorism that’s actually causing the other forms of terrorism. The root cause of the terrorism is the stuff that you as a government allow to happen and the foreign policies that we have in place in different countries that inspire people to become terrorists.
Brit rapper Lowkey has been no less outspoken. His Obama Nation lyrics spell it out: "Its over - people wake up from the dream now / Nobel peace prize, jay z on speed dial / Its the substance within, not the colour of your skin / Are you the puppeteer or the puppet on the string."
Obama hip-hop fever this time around isn't what it was, or even close. It feels like a loss of faith. Some of it is hardcore and in-your-face such as M1 of Dead Prez' rap on Obama Nation: "A master of disguise, expert at telling lies / Then they gave him a Nobel Peace Prize / Should of known he was trained in Chicago."
Lowkey's Obama Nation vid:
The president isn't without his hip-hop supporters and those willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Despite calling Obama out in the Reagan track, Killer Mike overall seems fairly positive. He believes Obama will get re-elected and regards his presidency as a good thing for African-Americans: "If you don't vote for Obama this time you're a f*ckin' race traitor."