Obama and hip-hop: a breakup song

Obama and hip-hop: a breakup song

The Washington Post

Erik Nielson, Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts
University of Richmond

Travis L. Gosa, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Erik Nielson is an assistant professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond. Travis L. Gosa is an assistant professor of Africana studies at Cornell University. Their book, “The Hip Hop & Obama Reader,” will be published in October.

In 2008, Barack Obama flipped the script on more than three decades of conventional wisdom when he openly embraced hip-hop — a genre typically viewed as politically radioactive because of its frequently controversial themes and anti-establishment ethos — in his campaign. Equally remarkable was the extent to which hip-hop artists and activists, often highly skeptical of national politicians, embraced him in return. As a result, for the first time it appeared we were witnessing a burgeoning relationship between hip-hop and national politics.

As we approach the 2016 election, however, this relationship is all but gone. Ironically, Obama — often called the first “hip-hop president” — largely is to blame.

This is especially disappointing in light of Obama’s 2008 run for office, when he encouraged artists such as Jay Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs to campaign for him, referenced rap music in his interviews and speeches, played rap at his events and openly contemplated a space for hip-hop in an Obama White House. In one of the lasting images of the campaign, Obama stood in front of an audience in Raleigh, N.C., and referenced Jay Z’s 2003 track “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” to raucous applause. In that moment, voters had every reason to believe that hip-hop indeed would have a seat at the table in an Obama administration…

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