President Barack Obama has touted hip hop endorsements more than any other candidate on the national stage. His campaign doubled down on that strategy Monday, launching a flashy ad touting Jay-Z, the rapper, business mogul and former drug dealer, as the embodiment of the American dream.
“The idea of America is that no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from, you can make it if you try,” says Obama, adding, “Jay-Z did.”
The ad shows Jay-Z, clad in a black suit and a tie, talking somberly about how many people’s voices have been “silenced” in the political process, either because they were prevented from voting or because they “didn’t believe their voice mattered.”
“Now people are exercising their right,” Jay-Z continues, “and you are starting to see the power of our vote.”
President Obama’s lines in the ad were from a recording made for “Jay-Z’s Made in America Festival in Philadelphia on September 1st,” an Obama aide told The Nation. While the video is not running as a TV ad, it could draw significant attention online, especially from young voters and African-Americans.
In 2008, the Obama campaign distributed several Jay-Z videos that went viral, including footage of Jay-Z’s poem  about the legacy of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Obama himself; a clip of then-Senator Obama using Jay’s signature hand gesture  to dismiss political attacks by figuratively brushing them off his shoulders; and a state-level briefing  on voter-ID rules for Michigan residents. The Obama campaign has adeptly used YouTube and social networks as a relatively thrifty way to do targeted messaging. TV ads are great for broadcasting, but voter turnout is about narrow-casting. And not all messengers are created equal.
“Jay is an anomaly to an incredible degree,” says Chuck Creekmur, CEO of AllHipHop.com . “He’s a great example of a possibility that is very difficult to attain for most kids from Marcy Projects,” says Creekmur, who has covered Jay and Obama’s outreach to the hip hop community. “I’d like to see more messaging directly referencing the issues that affect the 90 percent of African-Americans who voted for Obama,” he told The Nation.
The Obama campaign is not limiting Jay-Z’s voice to mobilizing the grassroots, of course. He and his wife Beyoncé recently headlined a $4 million fundraiser for Obama in Manhattan.