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August 6, 2009

Could Obama’s Edge Come From Music, Perhaps Even Gangsta Rap?

How many songs have influenced us in our lives? Remember those times when we listened to a song and from listening and reflecting upon its meaning we knew what we needed to say to that loved one of ours upon our next interaction? Can’t you hear Billy Joel saying,

“Don’t go changing, to try and please me, don’t change the color of your hair…”

Don't try to act as if the song title I Love You Just the Way You Are didn’t become a personal mantra of yours. Then there were those songs that we listened to that made us want to be better people. John Lennon asked us to,

“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world... “

I tried real hard to not be materialistic after hearing the lyrics to Imagine. There were even those songs that made us not want to take any crap off of someone. An agitated, irritated 50 Cent rapped in his song Places to Go,

"You mistaken me for somebody that you should be testing,
You should be stressing I'm gonna "frollicking" teach you a lesson,"

No, he didn't actually say "frollicking." Work with me here!

As we got older, many of us transcended the literalness of the lyrics and applied them in general ways (like in EWF’s “That’s the Way of the World”),

“That’s the way of the world. Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
A child is born with a heart of gold, The way of the world makes his heart grow cold.”

I learned that if we weren’t cautious and careful, the world could turn the nicest person into a cold-hearted being. Songs have been poignant enough to make us want to cry, make love, miss family, etc. So, while reflecting on concerns that Tipper Gore had about the impact of rap music upon our society I reflected that our newly elected president, Barack Obama, grew up listening to Michael Jackson bragging about Billie Jean, talking about how Bad he is, and asking us to Remember the Time. He also heard Prince warning about 1999, talking about Sexy Mother "Frollickers," and telling a woman he wanted to be her lover. It would be somewhat comfortable for most of us if we could leave it there, but we can’t. President Barack Obama, arguably the epitome of modern cool was only about 29 when the gangster rap group Niggaz with Attitudes entered the rap scene.

I am curious how many people may have considered that our president, Barack Obama, might very well be a music fan with a wide range of taste. While he has displayed a level of class, grace, and style, in arguably most everything he does, many people may not consider the fact that he may like jazz as well as rock, soul interchangeably with country music, as much as easy listening, classical music as well as hardcore gangster rap. Why would that be? Well, come on, we do have preconceived notions of what we are going to see and hear from people we first meet. Seeing basketball player Allen Iverson and then later discovering him listening to Beethoven would be somewhat surprising to me, if not you. It would also surprise many people to find out that Senator Orin Hatch was an avid Snoop Dogg fan.

Since music has been the background for so many of the moments in our lives, why would it not also be in the foreground as well? It is possible that President Obama, right before he has entered a room for a press conference, say on Sotomayor, or perhaps his Health Care press conference that was punctuated by the Gates-Crowley question, may have just finished listening to a certain type of music that might surprise us, while explaining some other things. I can imagine President Obama listening to Tupac’s Secretz of War before he enters the press conference anticipating resistance, if not outright partisanship. The lines

“You either ride with us, or collide with us, it’s as simple as that for me and my “Negroes,”

Though Negroes is not the street term he actually used, if Obama were listening to this song before he entered a press conference he might not be inspired to be as tolerant as we imagine he would be. Also, the “me and my Negroes” would have to be massaged in his mind to reflect his “staff,” “constituency” or “crew.”

Wasn’t it Rep. Michelle Bachmann who once said that Obama is running a “gangster government?” Did she mean “gangster” as in Mafia, Costa Nostra, or Family. Or did she mean gangster as in gangsta, as in the thug life that Tupac, Ice Tea, Dr. Dre, Snoop and other urban youth popularized. These rappers not only joined soul singers and black rhythm and blues artists in articulating black struggle and pain, but consistent with the Malcolm X inspired “by any means necessary,” they started to talk about actions that they could take when being disrespected. Would Obama have any reason to turn to rap music for consolation. Well, let’s see. We’ve had presidents become recluses, turn to outside relationships, probably hide behind medications etc. Why is it hard to imagine that our newly elected president, who has been challenged about his birth, called a socialist, a muslim, etc. hasn’t gotten fed up and silently adapted an anthem or two to have as his theme music before he has to engage an often dysfunctional populace, as stated by Gangstarr in their rap hit, Battle,

"You don't even know, the half about me-I bring it straight to your chest, ask your staff about me, I'm just a little bit older, plus a whole lot wiser, I might advise ya, or I might pulverize ya-
I can visit any city, get respect in the street-While you alone in your room, shook to death of the streets … "

I have thought of the way I teach philosophy as somewhat outside of the paradigm of its tradition, though consistent with the method used by William James, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson in making it more attractive and accessible to mainstream society. Because of my racial and cultural uniqueness within the discipline, dual appointment as administrator and lecturer, director, if not primary architect of the university’s diversity initiative, etc. my reality often potentially has me outside the margins of the discipline. When people have been outside the margins of their discipline they have garnered monikers or labels like “patriot” or “freedom fighter” when seen as valued to the hegemony or agents of change, and “terrorist” or riotous,” “outlaw” or “gangster” when seen as a threat to the prevailing morality. So while it may sound as if this is preposterous, don’t dismiss it too quickly, especially when you consider how much music has motivated you in the past.

Kill Yourself by Timbaland may represent exactly what I am talking about,

“It’s life and death, either one…I killed the game, I didn’t use a gun, who better than me, don’t make me laugh, I run the “defecate” they just chase my “rear”, I’m not talking “defecate” Negro, just telling the facts, I think all the tracks I’m hearing from Negroes are whack, I be hearing these Negroes, what they say in their rhymes, I took my spot, nobody gave me mine,
Again, Timbaland doesn’t say “defecate,” or “rear” just like none of these rappers are saying “Negro.”

If you can’t feel in the blanks, then you may want to stop reading this because you are probably missing most of my message. Can you feel me on this? Do you think my proposition about Obama is unrealistic, or might he be in his limo 5 miles/minutes away from his next engagement using this specific excerpt from Gangstar’s Battle to give him the edge he needs to put up with all the additional crap a Black president must deal with?

“You can't compare to the status right here, Legendary worldwide, we can battle right here, Listen junior, I’ll tear back your wig, This ain't TV but I'll show you what a "Fear Factor" is.
Stop grillin me, all that frontin is killin me, You leave me no choice but to hurt your feelings G”

Or this excerpt from the Game’s song “How We Do,*

”They say I'm no good, Cuz I'm so hood, Rich folks do not want me around,
Cuz “stuff”might pop off, and if “stuff”pop off, Somebody gon' get laid the “fudge” out
They call me new money, say I have no class, I'm from the bottom, I came up too fast”

If Obama is hood, then I am a choir boy (I was actually an altar boy once). However, he might frame himself as a hood to be able to appropriate the rest of the song for his purposes. His lack of class and humble beginnings, including the questioning of his American-ness and his meteoric rise are somewhat compatible with Game’s lyrics.

Frankly, while I do use Michael Franks and Al Jarreau to assist me in setting my mellow moods, John Coltrane’s romantic vibe to grade papers and write creatively, I do use gangsta rap to assist me in having an edge when I need it. That’s just real for me, or as Snoop once said in a Dre cut titled Nothing But a G-Thang, “that’s realer than real deal Holyfield.” More so, I hope, for the sake of our nation, that Obama’s relating more to Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues:

“Hang ups, let downs, bad breaks, set backs, natural fact is, I can't pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler, And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler, And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing, Trigger happy policing, Panic is spreading, God know where we're heading
Oh, make me wanna holler”

Or maybe listening to Sabac’s I Have a Dream

“I have a dream, I want to wake up to a revolution, I have a dream that people will rise up, Become wiser, I want to see people united, After the fighting. I have a dream.”

One thing is for sure, whether I’m right or wrong about our President, don’t you think someone should at least ask Obama about his musical taste?

What are the songs that were so powerful that you were inspired to take some type of action? What are the songs that you think Obama may be getting inspiration from? Does he listen to gangsta rap? If so, could it be an influence? How?