This article was originally published at WireTap magazine.
February 9, 2009
In a recent editorial, activist and former Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate Rosa Clemente challenged the declaration made by some Hip hip-hop artists and community organizations that Barack Obama is America’s first Hip Hop President:
“The hip-hop generation has never been a priority, we have always been an option and that option is used mostly to get out the vote during elections…those G.O.T.V. efforts become guaranteed votes for the Democratic Party and often fail to educate their followers about candidates that run outside of the two-party system…. I believe that like many before him, President-Elect Barack Obama’s campaign used Hip Hop to create excitement amongst young people in this country, but we must clearly see through the $750 million bling-bling marketing haze of his campaign..”
Clemente calls for a political movement that is multiracial and moves away from a white liberal-centric, two-party leadership.
I don’t think Clemente is wrong in questioning how exactly President Obama became known as the country’s first hip-hop President. After all, Obama has expressed concern about the explicit lyrics and misogynistic content of some hip-hop music. The fact that he was mobilized by efforts such as Rock the Vote, Respect my Vote, even Will.I.Am’s “Yes We Can” video, do not mean President Obama is hip-hop. His Presidency in no way should suggest that the struggle is over or that the hip-hop generation has “arrived.” Hip-hop, as a culture, movement and lifestyle, is too complicated and too often analyzed along oversimplified binaries to be assessed in this way.
But Clemente’s editorial fails to complicate a few aspects of Obama’s relationship to hip-hop. First, I doubt Obama is considered the “first hip-hop President” simply because he fist-bumped the First Lady and brushed dirt off his shoulders. Barack Obama is the first president to be from a hip-hop listening generation. He is the country’s first President of color and, some argue, the first urban President. It’s likely that his work as a community organizer, his residence in Chicago, his race, and his politics, have made him the historic candidate embraced by hip-hop artists around the nation.
Whether or not Obama is the first hip-hop President remains to be seen. Creating a strong political movement that empowers youth and continues to raise questions is work that began even before the 2008 election and must continue long after Obama leaves office. I have to hope that now that he is in the White House, President Obama will not ignore the promises he has made to his young voters and that he will speak out against the injustices that continue for people of color, women, poor people, queer people in the United States. And I have to believe that organizers, progressives, and Hip Hop artists will continue to mobilize for justice and will hold President Obama accountable while he is in office.