Amerikaz Most Wanted
by Jack Landsman, Tue Oct 12, 2010 at 11:11:24 PM EDT
Things are not going particularly well for President Obama. Not wanting to contribute to his troubles, there is an area where I think the president deserves a passionate defense: the recent contretemps over his iPod. Like most controversies in the news, this is extremely late. People offended by Jay-Z and Lil Wayne’s place on the presidential iPod should know that Obama betrayed a love for rap some 2½ years ago. On the morning after a particularly bruising debate with Hillary Rodham Clinton, then-Sen. Obama met with a throng of supporters, flipped off Sen. Clinton, and then brushed his shoulders off, a la Jay-Z.
What do you think of rap? Has it been unfairly attacked for destroying family values?
By definition, rock & roll is rebel music, which means if it's not being criticized, it's probably not doing its job. I am troubled sometimes by the misogyny and materialism of a lot of rap lyrics, but I think the genius of the art form has shifted the culture and helped to desegregate music. Music was very segregated back in the Seventies and Eighties — you'll remember that when MTV first came on, it wasn't until Thriller that they played Michael.
I know Jay-Z. I know Ludacris. I know Russell Simmons. I know a bunch of these guys. They are great talents and great businessmen, which is something that doesn't get emphasized enough. It would be nice if I could have my daughters listen to their music without me worrying that they were getting bad images of themselves.
That was Barack Obama in Rolling Stone on June 25, 2008.
Obama came off as a thoughtful, mainstream listener of all kinds of music, including rap. While almost no one embraces the violent gangsterism of some rap, its more talented promulgators like Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, and even Lil Wayne, to a degree, are enthralling figures. In other words, they spit catchy stuff.
In the October 2010 issue of Rolling Stone, the president once more indulges in an obligatory bit about his taste in music. Consequently, of all the things to rap the president for, serious people like Stanley Crouch of The NY Daily News, and the handsomely named Thomas Chatterton Williams, are upset about the president’s affinity for rap actors Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. If they knew the half of it…
Thomas Chatterton Williams in the pages of The Wall Street Journal:
Does Mr. Obama like Lil Wayne's "Lil Duffle Bag Boy"? In that song, the rapper implores young black men to "go and get their money" through round-the-clock drug hustling. And with Lil Wayne, it's not just an act: The rapper is currently serving a one-year term on Rikers Island after being caught in New York with drugs and guns stashed in his Louis Vuitton overnighter.
Lil Wayne is emblematic of a hip-hop culture that is ignorant, misogynistic, casually criminal and often violent. A self-described gangster, he is a modern-day minstrel who embodies the most virulent racist stereotypes that generations of blacks have fought to overcome. His music is a vigorous endorsement of the pathologies that still haunt and cripple far too many in the black underclass.
Just as disturbing is Mr. Obama's appreciation for Jay-Z, the rapper and unrepentant ex-drug dealer whose real name is Shawn Carter. Not only did Jay-Z earn a mention from the president in Rolling Stone, but he's been photographed sitting in Mr. Obama's chair in the White House Situation Room.
Mr. Obama is certainly not responsible for hip-hop's grip on black America, or for Mr. Carter's ideas and behavior. But what president would ever let Marilyn Manson drop by the White House? Is Jay-Z any better?For so many black Americans, Barack Obama is appealing and promising precisely because he represents a powerful, necessary alternative to Jay-Z's version of blackness.
Are black people expected to conduct their lives according to strict, competing conceptions of blackness? Are we to believe that a successful Harvard-educated lawyer and politician can’t have the luxury of one Jay-Z song?
Mr. Crouch decided to big up a kindred spirit, Mr. Williams, yesterday:
Obama mentioned Jay-Z, then went on to say that he has now expanded his listening to include Lil Wayne, that tattooed gargoyle now serving time for drug and gun possession at Rikers Island.
Obama is too young to have musical tastes as sophisticated as Bill Clinton's, but that's not an excuse [Thomas Chatterton] Williams will accept. …Williams speaks from authority. As a young man, he found himself in the thrall of hip hop culture, only to later slip from its grip. Now he calls Jay-Z "an unrepentant ex-drug dealer."
Obama does not need to apologize for his listening choices. But hopefully, he knows that the message he is sending to young people is a dangerous one. At the very least, you know that neither of his daughters would ever be allowed to date a man like Jay-Z or Lil Wayne.
While LBJ probably would not have allowed either of his daughters to date a heretic like John Lennon in 1966, I hope he would not have kept them from listening to the Beatles altogether. Iconic artists almost always have neurotic personal lives. Realistically, there’s no reason to expect much more from what seems like a dying genre anyway. Obama’s tangential connection to some of Lil Wayne’s lyrics is rendered obsolete in comparison to, say, the White House’s laughable attempt to distract a weary public from an increasing real unemployment rate of 17%.
Incidentally this entire episode helps me understand why so many people are caught up in Obamamania. He’s a cool fellow. I couldn’t quite empathize with folk taking photos of dead relatives into the voting booth with them, the crying at the Inauguration, and everything else, but Obama does have his moments.
Let him breathe on this one.