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: