Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hip Hop After Obama: From "F The Police" Over To "My President Is A Black Man"

I am not sure how long this will last but it sure is interesting to watch.

Barack's support may be just the rhyme and reason rappers need to put a more positive spin on hip-hop.

When he takes office Tuesday, President Barack Obama will have his hands full dealing with the economic downturn, the Gaza Strip conflict, terrorist threats in Afghanistan and any number of relentlessly pressing matters.

But maybe he could spare a little time to help out hip-hop, too?

After all, Obama is not just the first African-American president. He is the first hip-hop president - the first one with Jay-Z and Kanye West on his iPod, the first one who speaks the culture's language, the first one who embraces its mannerisms, from fist-bumping with his wife to throwing his hands in the air and waving like he just don't care to Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love."

Though he admits he's older than hip-hop culture, he clearly understands it. "What I've appreciated seeing in this hip-hop generation is how entrepreneurial they've been," Obama has said. "What I'm starting to see is [for rappers] to stretch out more to think about social responsibility and how they could impact the culture in a positive way and I hope that continues."

Will that hope be enough to persuade many rappers and their fans to look at the genre in a different way? Is that the change hip-hoppers can believe in?

Because the genre certainly needs some change. While sales of rock music dropped only 6.5 percent last year, hip-hop sales dropped nearly 20 percent, according to The Nielsen Company - part of an alarming trend for hip-hop.

In 2003, hip-hop was the third-most-popular type of music. By 2008, it had dropped to sixth, behind country and metal, only slightly ahead of gospel music. Over the past five years, hip-hop sales have fallen 57 percent, according to Nielsen.

In many ways, hip-hop has gotten lazy in recent years. It is far easier to rhyme about bling and rims and the club when you're trying to keep people entertained than it is to tackle social responsibility or cultural positivity in a four-minute song. It is also far easier to market that. Unfortunately, for hip-hop, that all becomes too predictable too fast.

Chang says that Obama's election has already inspired some artists to think outside the box, to attempt topics that they previously left alone.

"For me, the turning point was the Young Jeezy episode," Chang says. "You have this guy who's been all about 'crack rap' and he's forced to defend the fact that he supports Obama. Jeezy comes out and says, 'I'm basically supporting him because of the health care issue because my mom got sick and I had to pay for it out of my own pocket.' That's pretty amazing."

That theme is one Jeezy continues to explore in "My President Is Black," where he rhymes about the problems of the working class: "I woke up this morning, headache this big. Pay all these damn bills, feed all these damn kids, buy all these school shoes, buy all these school clothes, for some strange reason my son addicted to Polos."

Tossing Obama into the mix

Though Obama's candidacy and election haven't spawned a major hip-hop album yet, they have inspired numerous mixtapes, gathering high-profile rappers' thoughts on his presidency.

On DJ Green Lantern's "Yes We Can" mixtape, for example, everyone from Akon to Jay-Z contribute new songs and interviews to celebrate Obama's accomplishments.

"What [Obama's election] represents is we as a people are a part of 'the American dream,'" Jay-Z says on the mixtape. "The message is for a kid in Marcy Projects right now to say, 'Maybe I can be the president.' For a part, we were left out of the American dream at a certain point. ... Now the dream is that you can be anything. ... That's more important than anything - the hope of that."

And Jay-Z, who campaigned heavily for Obama and will be a part of the inauguration celebrations, may be the first major rapper to address the shifting concerns of hip-hop head-on, though that is still up in the air as he continues work on his new album, "The Blueprint, Vol. 3." On one of the new album's tracks, "Jockin' Jay-Z," he rhymes, "-- talkin' 'bout the recession, it's just depressin'/I rock wit' Obama, but I ain't no politician." He then returns to talking about money and wealth, saying, "Haters, like, 'Hov, why you still talkin' money --?'/'Cuz I like money, --!"

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