From Public Enemy to Tupac Shakur to Nas to Lil Wayne, rappers have not been scared to come after sitting presidents on wax.
It’s been almost two years since Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. But who’s counting? His time spent in office thus far has been marred by significant blows to the First Amendment, environmental protections, working-class families, minorities, immigrants, and, well, most sentient life forms who foolishly assumed that time moves forward and not backward.
Recent midterm election results served as a breath of fresh air to many and a timely reminder that the pendulum of partisan politics does swing, even when our dystopian reality feigns at permanence. If reclaiming the majority of the House of Representatives hasn’t left you feeling cozy enough, we’ve got something to make you feel really patriotic.
Ice Cube’s new track, “Arrest the President,” from his upcoming album Everythang’s Corrupt, calls for action from the Robert Mueller investigation and echoes his penchant for justice across a song which purposefully avoids innuendo: “Arrest the president/You got the evidence.”
This is just one recent example of hip-hop’s relentlessly vocal role urging checks and balances within government and vigorously exposing corruption as it arises.
We’ve let this track serve as our inspiration to find more gems of lyrical confrontation between rap artists and sitting presidents. From Tupac Shakur to Nas to Lil Wayne, the examples below were selected as extraordinary anthems that synthesize palatable hooks with messages of resistance.
The beauty of this list is that it’s only a taste, a teaser, a glimpse of music’s power to shine light on the otherwise unexposed. The list inevitably will continue to grow as long as oppression exists and elicits outrage anywhere.
It’s easy to grow numb to the steady barrage of push notifications and endless hateful rhetoric that’s been normalized as a part of the modern American narrative. But it’s also important to remember, as this list notes in its own small way, that when opposing your administration requires you to speak out in order to regulate abuses in power, it’s defiance itself which becomes the height of patriotism.
Sometimes you’ve got to turn up the volume to be heard.
Public Enemy “Rebel Without a Pause” (1987)
Public Enemy’s 1988 album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, is widely considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever released. “Rebel Without a Pause” was first recorded in 1986 and takes aim at then sitting president Ronald Reagan. The Reagan Administration was notorious for scandals that included arms dealing to Iran, rigging low-income housing bids to favor Republican donors, widespread corruption within the Environmental Protection Agency and plenty of other egregious shit.
All of this led to the following verse from Chuck D. It is one of the first known calls for action against a president:
Never silent, no dope, getting dumb – nope
Claiming where we get our rhythm from
Number one, we hit ya and we give ya some
No gun, and still never on the run
You wanna be an S.1 – Griff will tell you when
And then you’ll come again you’ll know what time it is
Impeach the president, pulling out my ray-gun
Zap the next one, I could be your Shogun.
Getto Boys “Fuck a War” (1991)
The Persian Gulf War came straight into America’s living room as one of the first heavily televised U.S. conflicts to receive almost nonstop media coverage, bringing the immediacy of foreign conflict closer than ever before.
Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys took George H.W. Bush to task after gaining inside perspective on the conflict from a close relative that had served overseas. The album We Can’t Be Stopped served as a blatantly rebellious declaration akin to the rousing anthems of N.W.A. and Public Enemy. This track didn’t hesitate to expose the economic incentives of war and the injustice of sending the nation’s poorest and least represented populations to fight on its behalf:
Be a soldier, what for?
They puttin’ niggas on the front line
But when it comes to gettin’ ahead, they put us way behind
I ain’t gettin’ my leg shot off
While Bush’s old ass on TV playin’ golf
But when he come to my house with that draft shit
I’mma shoot your funky ass, bitch!
Tupac “How Do You Want It” (1996)
But it’s also notorious as a track that sizzled across the airwaves at the height of a movement that denounced rap music as profane and even called for open boycotts of the genre. C. Delores Tucker, widely known as an Anti-Rap Activist, landed in the crosshairs of Tupac, alongside President Bill Clinton and ex-Senator Bob Dole, in what can only be considered one of rap music’s original clap backs, after Tucker protested the NAACP’s nomination of Tupac for its Image Awards:
C. Delores Tucker, you’s a motherfucker
Instead of tryin’ to help a nigga, you destroy a brother
Worse than the others; Bill Clinton, Mister Bob Dole
You’re too old to understand the way the game’s told
You’re lame so I gotta hit you with the hot facts
Once I’m released, I’m makin’ millions, nigga, top that.
Nas “What Goes Around” (2001)
Stillmatic helped to re-establish Nas as one of rap’s most indelible voices after 1999’s I Am… and Nastradamus both received lukewarm critical receptions.
The album is brimming with thoughtful meditations that further cemented Nas as a storytelling savant unafraid of combining pop sensibility with real meaning. The largely overlooked “What Goes Around” is the second to last track on the album, which centers on the theme of karmic retribution. He asserts that everything from common medications to fast food, religion and drugs are “poison” that ultimately destroys more than it heals.
Nas even finds time to confront the president, George Bush, while he’s dropping spiritual knowledge:
It’s all scientific, mystic, you know, the Earth and the stars
Don’t hesitate to say you heard it from Nas
What is destined shall be
George Bush-killer ‘til George Bush kills me.
Lil Wayne “Georgia… Bush” (2006)
George W. Bush’s response, or lack thereof, to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is considered to be one of the most profound presidential blunders of the modern age. While criticisms of the government’s response have been extensively documented, including in Spike Lee’s four-part documentary series When the Levees Broke, the outrage still reverberates to this day.
Centering on Bush and FEMA’s sluggish response to deploying resources to New Orleans, Lil Wayne emphatically raps over Ludacris and Field Mob’s rendition of the original 1930’s classic, “Georgia On My Mind” to speak on the tragedy’s lasting impact on his hometown:
Now, this song is dedicated to the one with the suit
Thick white skin and his eyes bright blue
So called beef with you-know-who
Fuck it, he just let ‘em kill all of our troops
Look at the bullshit we been through
Had our niggas sitting on top their roofs
Hurricane Katrina, we should’ve called it Hurricane (Georgia) Bush
Then they telling y’all lies on the news
The white people smiling like everything cool
But I know people that died in that pool
I know people that died in them schools
Now, what is the survivor to do?
Rick Ross & John Legend “Free Enterprise” (2015)
While Rick Ross is best known for delivering silk-laden luxury raps revolving around material wealth and grandeur, his vocabulary expands well beyond opulent descriptions of Aston Martins and expensive liquors.
On his 2015 album Black Market, Ross enlists the help of John Legend for the lead track “Free Enterprise,” which finds Ross exploring his personal triumphs over ascending piano keys.
He then pivots and mentions Donald Trump in a statement he would go on to backtrack the following year:
Assassinate Trump like I’m Zimmerman
Now accept these words as they came from Eminem
Democratic party sentenced to the pendulum
Killing them, I voted for Andre Benjamin.
Anderson .Paak & T.I. “Come Down” (Remix) (2016)
Anderson .Paak’s breakthrough came on 2016’s Malibu, which soared to the top of the charts and received a Grammy Nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
The track “Come Down” is produced by Hi-Tek, who masterfully inserts a buoyant G-funk bassline over Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” to create one of the album’s most scintillating and memorable moments.
On the remix, T.I. springboards off this same infectious bassline to insert his political take into an otherwise innocuous track:
I fantasize shooting Trump down
A shot for every black man who got gunned down
By the police with no convictions, still they run ‘round
When we protest they tell us pipe down
For Trayvon and Mike Brown
CNN wanna make it black/white
Cause we hit the action with a blacklight
Make them suckers act right, yeah!
YG & Nipsey Hussle “FDT” (2016)
West Coast heavyweight YG came out swinging on his second studio album Still Brazy and created “FDT” in the process, perhaps the most unabashed anti-Donald Trump release to date. YG recorded the track as his own form of protest while the Republican was still merely a candidate for the presidency. In a 2016 interview with Vulture, YG reveals that Donald Trump did in fact attempt to censor the release: “The Secret Service was calling my label [Universal] to get the lyrics to my album so they could try to pull it off the shelves.”
While this ultimately resulted in some lyrical adjustments, the track’s predominant theme remains intact:
I thought all that Donald Trump bullshit was a joke
Know what they say, when rich niggas go broke…
Look, Reagan sold coke, Obama sold hope
Donald Trump spent his trust fund money on the vote.
On Pt. 2, YG enlists unlikely collaborators G-Eazy and Macklemore to demonstrate the universality of the motif. He later told i-D, “If I get two of the biggest white rap dudes in the game on this “Fuck Donald Trump” record, that shit is gonna mean something.”
Kendrick Lamar “The Heart IV” (2017)
Kendrick Lamar’s is widely recognized as the most progressive living rapper, with 12 Grammy awards, a Pulitzer Prize for 2017’s DAMN. and unquestioned recognition as rap’s living renaissance incarnate.
While his pointed commentary frequently touches on most aspects of modern life, he’s also weighed in specifically on Donald Trump during his enigmatic “The Heart Part 4” (which has since disappeared from major streaming platforms).
In this strictly digital release, Kendrick states that he’s the greatest rapper alive, and shortly after, comes straight for POTUS:
Donald Trump is a chump
Know how we feel, punk – tell him that God comin’
And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’
Electoral votes look like memorial votes
But America’s truth ain’t ignorin’ the votes
It’s blasphemy, how many gon’ blast for me?
Eminem “The Storm” (2017)
Eminem has never been afraid of stirring up controversy. In 2004, his vehemently anti-Bush track “Mosh” served as his most notable foray into political rap. The track opens with The Pledge of Allegiance and was engineered to be literally anthemic.
This was his standout anti-POTUS rap, that is until his 2017 cypher, “The Storm,” aired last year during the BET Awards. The video now boasts over 48 million plays and is dedicated entirely to Donald Trump, showcasing that Eminem is still capable of laser-focused rhymes, as long as he’s incensed enough:
Any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his
I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against
And if you can’t decide who you like more, and you’re split
On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this:
The rest of America, stand up!
We love our military, and we love our country
But we fuckin’ hate Trump!
Have a song you’d add to the list? Drop the track name and lyrics in the comments below.