Hiphop is traditionally an art form opposed to the establishment. Subversive lyrics, and verbal assaults on political figures are all apart of the culture. Hiphop from the late 80’s and early 90’s pushed for the disenfranchised to stand up, take ownership, and seek solutions to the oppression they faced. Rarely, if ever, did artists from that era endorse any particular political figure or Party. Rapper and activist Chuck D was a strong voice during that era and often expressed his disdain for the establishment.
On Public Enemy’s single “Revolutionary Generation,” Chuck reminded his listeners that during the American slave trade “they disrespected mama and treated her like dirt/ America took her, reshaped her, raped her/ Nope it never made the paper…” Rhymes like this were common throughout many of PE’s albums as a constant reminder that the system at its core is sinister. Some artists took a different approach from a historical criticism of the establishment, and incorporated harsh and lewd lyrics as apart of their delivery. Too short, for example, attacked then president Ronald Regan on his Single “Cusswords.” Short began by telling of a conversation he had with Regan, “Ronald Regan came up to me and said, ‘Do you have the answer to the U.S. economy and a cure for cancer?’ I said, ‘what are you doing in the White House if you’re not selling cocaine?’ ” Back then; instead of only attacking other rappers, artists were not afraid to throw disses at authority figures. Hiphop fans deep in the culture may recall when Tupac had his issues with former president George H.W. Bush’s vice president, Dan Quayle. On his single, “Last Wordz,” Pac opened fire with some fiery bars aimed at Quayle “Dan Quayle don’t you know you need yo’ ass kicked/ where was you when there was niggas in the caskets?”
None of those artists were trying to persuade listeners from participating in politics; they were trying to instill a sense of self-empowerment. Part of the message was that politicians: would be held responsible for their actions, and would ultimately work to serve the people. Fast-forward to the 2004 election year, and the dialogue within the hiphop community regarding the attitude towards American politics on the mainstream level had changed. P. Diddy helped to launch the Citizen Change campaign that urged young fans to “vote or die,” a far cry from the message sent by his predecessors in the community. During that election, and the years that followed, rappers from all over began to endorse politicians they felt could make a change. In the 2008 and 2012 election years, Jay-z took political endorsements to a new level with his support for President Obama. Jigga man was doing free concerts, and often made public boasts about his relationship with the president.
Ten Years ago, Nas delivered the eulogy at the funeral for hiphop, and as the 2016 presidential race heats up, candidates are reanimating its corpse like a scene out of a sci-fi film. Remember the movie Slither? The film was about these parasitic extraterrestrial life forms that inhabited the bodies of living humans, and took complete control over their cognitive and motor functions. Many of the 2016 candidates have been doing just that to the hiphop culture. The newly formed relationship between hiphop and mainstream politics is in essence parasitism. Republican candidate Mark Rubio has made several public statements regarding his love for hiphop since he started his campaign. Who would’ve ever guessed that one day the Republican Party would become the cool Party? The Geto Boys recently got on Twitter and let the world know that they did not sign off on Ted Cruz’s flip of their single “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta.” It’s not just the Republicans taking advantage of the culture; Killer Mike recently took on the role of Bernie Sander’s anger translator, and attacked Clinton for her treatment of a young Black Lives Matters protestor during a recent speech. Once a culture set on creating a space outside of the conventional political atmosphere, hiphop has become nothing more than playground for politicians.