Jay-Z, the ten-time Grammy winning rapper and prominent Obama backer, is plunging back into the debate over George W. Bush’s record on race and Hurricane Katrina.

During an NPR interview about his new book, Decoded, Jay-Z addressed the recent volleys between Kanye West, his protégé, and Bush, a fellow traveler on the book-tour circuit. (Briefly: West said Bush didn’t “care about black people” at a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser; Bush now cites it as a low point of his presidency; and West recently apologized for the statement when confronted by Matt Lauer, and then walked it back on Twitter.)

Katrina "didn’t feel like a natural disaster, it felt like something that was happening directly to blacks and it immediately brought us back to the images of people getting beaten, sprayed with hose, and beaten on the bridge in Selma,” he explained. “Kanye really spoke what everyone else felt. When he said everyone was immediately like, ‘That’s exactly how we all feel,’” Jay-Z continued, “it felt more than a national disaster. We felt like if that had happened somewhere else, that wouldn’t be happening, and calling people a ‘refugee’ in their own home.”

Jay-Z cast Kanye’s new, fleeting apology as distinct from the original confrontation with Bush: “If Kanye apologized, you know, he said it, that’s how he felt, but you know, what he said [in 2005], that’s how everyone felt.”

As for Bush’s feelings, Jay-Z argued it was telling that a low point for the leader of the free world was just about himself. “I find it strange, like everyone should, that one of his lowest points was somebody talking about him,” Jay-Z told NPR. “He’s the president, you know, people should insult him a lot. That’s part of the job description, people are not gonna be happy with what you do.”

There is another revealing facet to Bush’s reaction: It shows how powerful people sometimes take criticism beyond the political arena quite seriously. The Watergate recordings from the Nixon White House, for example, reveal that the president was livid about talk show host Dick Cavett, asking if there are ways to “screw him.”

Going back to Katrina in 2005, it was nonpolitical figures like West who first voiced some of the most pointed questions about whether race and wealth played a role in the government response. For his part, Jay-Z never matched West’s language—they have similar politics yet different styles—but he has also weighed in. Jay-Z recorded “Minority Report,” a subtle, searching song about the political, media and philanthropic responses to Katrina—with lyrics that also took rich rappers to task:

Poor kids just [ignored] cause they were poor kids,
Left ’em on they porches same old story in New Orleans
Silly rappers, because we got a couple Porches
MTV stopped by to film our fortresses
We forget the unfortunate
Sure I ponied up a mill, but I didn’t give my time
So in reality I didn’t give a dime—or a damn
I just put my monies in the hands of the same people that left my people stranded
Nothin’ but a bandit
Left them folks abandoned
Damn, that money that we gave was just a band-aid
Can’t say we better off than we was before
In synopsis, this is my minority report

Discussing his new book, Jay-Z says the song teed off frustration with events “like Katrina,” where “you see people on the roof and people of color for the most part, and there’s ‘Help’ [sign] on the roof, and this is happening in America on TV. And then you see the Commander in Chief, you know, just drive by on a plane.”

Finally, as for the following president, whom Jay-Z boosted with campaign concerts, voter registration events, BarackObama.com videos and even a victory performance for staff at the inauguration, the rapper/author is taking the long view. “In order to judge Obama, you have to judge what happened before, you have to judge what he inherited,” Jay-Z said. “I think a lot of people would like to forget what we were coming out of and what was left on the desk for the incoming president,” he argued, adding, “if you think he can fix eight years worth of damage…in two years, then I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s even realistic.”

Jay-Z’s "Minority Report": "George Bush Don’t Like Black People," a Katrina remix of Kanye West’s Golddigger song, by K-Otix (aka The Legendary KO). (Thanks to Twitter user @chenski for the song credit.)


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