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Thursday, December 2, 2021

WHAT HIP-HOP’S HISTORY WITH TRUMP SAYS ABOUT BLACK POLITICS

r. b. rone
r. b. rone is the Editor-in-Chief of DXCEGAME Media and a media and culture critic. They are primarily concerned with Black music and culture, digital media, politics and their intersections.

It’s easy to dismiss the vocal contingent of hip-hop artists — specifically male rappers — embracing Donald Trump as opportunistic or as an exercise in class loyalty. It’s equally uncomplicated to categorize it with the likes of other prominent Black conservatives and endorsements of conservative policy.

Black conservative politics has always had some kind of mainstream voice, whether it be Jackie Robinson or Clarence Thomas, but what really lies beneath this specific marriage of the Black experience? What many would consider to be politics antagonistic to the black experience is more inextricable than rhetoric or taxes. What makes rappers love Donald Trump is something so deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness that it reflects some of the most fundamental beliefs of America and hip-hop alike.

More than economic anxiety or suburban voters, beyond racist dog whistles and populist rhetoric, the most important factor in Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency is the unique mythos associated with him. Trump has carefully cultivated an image in a decades-long mission to make his name, brand and person synonymous with the most grotesque, folkloric imagining of the American Dream and the fruits of capitalism and enterprise.

Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

He has been successful in this pursuit in more ways than one: On an aesthetic level, Trump has forever been a poster child for swashbuckling industrialism, whether through being the nation’s boss on TV’s “The Apprentice” or by plastering his name on skyscrapers in every skyline he can. Reading beyond the surface, one sees bankruptcies, fraud and the empty shell of a mogul; a brazen experiment in the lengths that image and American exceptionalism can go. Either way you go about it, the Trump brand signifies the same kind of wealth and ego that has defined popular applications of hip-hop music in culture.

Perhaps most indicative of this fraternal bond between the ideals of hip-hop and the United States is the recurring presence of Trump himself in both the musical and cultural apparatuses of the genre. He makes numerous appearances via lyrical reference, frequently as a marker of status and wealth, and of the cut-throat mentality of the hyper-capitalist rapper. He has been seen alongside captains of rap industry like the Wu-Tang Clan and Russell Simmons, serving as a physical parable to the transcendent power of success in business, the ability to approximate the unique, unobtainable ubiquity of white wealth and power.

Photo Credit: msnbc.com

As president, he parlayed this cultural relationship into an opportunity to curry favor with the Black public, taking meetings with Kanye West and Ice Cube, and making calls to get A$AP Rocky out of a Swedish jail. What this reveals is a profound misunderstanding of Black people, a misunderstanding that does not even view Black folks as human, but rather as individual brush-strokes in a mural of the rapper and his fans.

This cognitive dissonance reflects the larger flaw in the myths of both Trump and hip-hop: That glorification of wealth and image in the popular perception of hip-hop equates to Black prosperity in the white world. While Trump and rap music covet the same kind of American greed and value as it relates to wealth, Black Americans acquire that wealth despite the workings of American politics and economics; Donald Trump has acquired it because of them. It is from this false equivalency that two things are true: Donald Trump has a foundationally flawed understanding of what Black people value, and hip-hop has an intellectually flawed understanding of what wealth and opulence signify in racialized contexts. This is nothing new — it dates back even to late rapper Eazy-E visiting the White House during the Bush presidency, which was a horrendous for African Americans.

But Trump’s history with hip-hop doesn’t say much at all about Black politics. It says worlds more about the all-American obsession with wealth and status, to the point that the image of financial success obfuscates political value. This is especially true for Black people; a population so historically underserved that wealth carries more value than it would to a segment of society that is more used to acquiring wealth and status. Sadly, class loyalty very frequently outweighs racial loyalty. When considering how well the Democrats have sequestered the Black vote, we don’t pay enough attention to the conservative values that many Black folks hold.

Our relationships with the church and historically Black geographic locations like the Bible Belt and upper South are staunchly conservative, and that doesn’t change because Black people are there too. If Republicans were to adopt a platform and a rhetoric that wasn’t antagonistic to so many parts of Blackness (law and order politics, the war on drugs, opposition to voting rights, entitlements, health care and the list goes on), they would make stellar inroads with Black voters — especially older ones who hold deeply entrenched conservative values. Black people are always asked to vote in the interest of the “greater good,” so we vote Democrat.

Photo Credit: Twitter

Successful and wealthy people of any race will most frequently vote in their interests, and in a capitalist nation such as the United States, that most often means votes in favor of conservative values. Beyond this, rap artists and other wealthy people with similar distance from the working and middle class have less reason to vote beyond their interests. The vast majority of working people, especially Black people, are personally close to issues of poverty, entitlement and other valence issues that liberal politics protect.

Rappers, however, are surrounded by rich people much like themselves and have a slanted world view because of them.

Does this signal that the hip-hop community is mostly conservative, despite what it ritually projects? The answer is no. Conservative politics frankly attack many of the things that make hip-hop what it is: brazen youth, liberal sexual politics and blackness itself. Rap performers embrace conservatism in response to two distinct issues: wealth and social progress. Many rappers — and blacks in general — have had issues in the past accepting LGBTQ people, and today especially, trans people.

In addition, rappers like money and protecting their money to the point that they could vote for Donald Trump. Now, this isn’t to say that all rappers are Republicans; we know this to be demonstrably untrue. But some of the more callous, selfish ones are understandably more moved by Republican politics, if not necessarily in public.

In public or in private, of course, all of Trump’s recent cozying up to rappers in the headlines amounted to nothing; his margins with Black voters improved to an extent, as they did with most voter demographics, but he failed to make any real inroads with black voters. That being said, despite no substantive action to improve the lives of African Americans, Trump got more of us to vote for him. This points to the enduring power of Trump’s folktale presence in the Black imagination before he was president, a tale that is so powerful it superseded the material action of the Trump presidency.

While Trump failed to raise any sort of political mutiny at the hands of Black people, he has revealed the limits of the monolithic understanding of Black political inclination. With two consecutive election cycles that have failed to produce an exciting or even exceptional candidate for many left-leaning voters, including African Americans, the Democratic party and American Left must seriously consider the needs of a population it has long taken for granted.

After seeing this head-on collision between the ethics of Blackness and the personification of some of the oldest and worst aspects of hip-hop culture, we, as Black people, must examine both our cultural and political leaders with more scrutiny. Above all, Trumpism has hastened the overdue arrival of a serious evaluation of how America views Blackness, and how we view it.

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