Rappers for Obama, and Vice Versa

Why Young Jeezy and his revitalized ilk owe our new president more than he owes them

For Jay-Z's part, four short months after his "A Milli" provocation, the rapper appeared on an entirely different sort of track with M.I.A. (a remix of her "Boyz"), engaging in what was essentially constructive political activism. M.I.A.: "How many billions does it take before the troops are home? How many banks gotta collapse till you know what you're doing is wrong?" Jay-Z: "We gotta get Bush out the chair! Give Obama the floor!" The track was a noticeable improvement on August's T.I. posse debacle "Swagger Like Us," which featured rap royalty (Jay, Kanye, and Lil Wayne) on a hook courtesy of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," and which was perhaps 2008's best proof that top-shelf commercial hip-hop was running desperately low on ideas.

Still, the very fact that Jay-Z (one of the last remaining stars in a dying industry) and M.I.A. (an indie fashion plate whose 2007 album Kala remains the most successfully radical record of the decade) were even on two tracks together in '08 was in itself a tribute to Obama. The candidate's evident, surprising traction with such a huge swath of the electorate had its own major implications for hip-hop, and for Jay-Z in particular, a rapper who'd been visibly tormented since his un-retirement by an inability to locate any real demographic to which he wanted to speak. M.I.A., whose music has always been explicitly targeted at the global-change contingent, was an obvious role model, once Pineapple Express and Kanye West helped a guy like Jay-Z figure out exactly who she was.

Young Jeezy, joining the motorcade
Courtesy Def Jam
Young Jeezy, joining the motorcade
T.I., waiting to be picked up
Darren Ankeman
T.I., waiting to be picked up


Young Jeezy
"My President," #78 single (tie)

And so, while rap helped prepare the ground for an Obama win, it may well have been that, as in seemingly many an interaction with America's 44th president, it was also hip-hop that emerged revitalized and with the better end of the deal. Obama gave rap a sense of relevance at the exact moment that its most venerable artists were searching for one. "See, I motivate the thugs, right?" said Young Jeezy at the end of "My President," speaking explicitly to the man he hoped would win in November. "You motivate us."

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