Before we start another year with you-know-who in charge, Yoh Phillips breaks down the don’t-give-a-funk rap songs that defined American leaders from Reagan to Obama.
“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.” — James Baldwin
“Fuck” is vulgar, derogatory. A forbidden language in the public spaces of politicians and presidents. It is also powerful and electrifying. A piercing language used in the public spaces of rappers and rap beef. Political correctness was not considered in the least when YG rapped, “Fuck Donald Trump”. Those three words merged the forbidden and the piercing. He said them with no agenda attached and without worry of FBI investigation or any fear-inducing repercussions. It was pure—the outrage of a man who heard all he could from a hate spewing xenophobe and responded with an erect middle finger and the promise to combat antipathy with brotherhood.
Unity was born from the shared contempt that YG and Nipsey Hussle conveyed of the then-Republican presidential candidate. Brotherhood and sisterhood are felt in rooms whenever “FDT” plays, which has become the unofficial-official anthem of a separate nation of Americans who kneel with [Colin] Kaepernick and stand against Trump’s delusional vision of #MAGA and the reality of America’s unsolved societal issues. Other rappers in the game have spoken out about injustice and The Donald, but only YG and Nipsey—two West Coast rappers—gave us a song to channel our angst into. An expressive motif to sing and dance against the campaign, election, and all the travesties that have taken place during Trump’s reign as Commander-in-Chief.
Hip-hop was first called the “CNN of the Ghetto” by Public Enemy’s Chuck D, a perfect analogy of how the culture is meant to communicate with the disenfranchised and marginalized communities unrepresented. The rapper is the reporter, a vessel capable of speaking to and for the hood and its inhabitants. YG fulfilled his role within the culture’s long legacy of a rapper challenging the establishment by plainly stating what no politician or reputable journalist will say. Sure, it wasn’t the most eloquent, nor did the song extensively explain all the evils that would come with a Trump presidency, but, ultimately, YG unleashed a spirit bomb that collectively shared how many of us felt during Trump’s campaign.
All that to say that throughout each presidency within these United States of America since the election of Ronald Reagan and the birth of hip-hop — rappers have spoken with a truthful tongue and abandoned political correctness for transparent vigor. Songs inspired throughout the decades were born by their resentment and distaste of the men who entered and exited the house James Hoban built. @Okayplayer has found these musical entries that are political and are not coated in sugar to share with you all, to keep the fight alive.
By allowing the music to have a message that embodies the raw thoughts, feelings and emotions of a people who couldn’t stand on a podium and speak against the wrongs they see — these rappers, at their best, carry the words we all wish would be said by those in a place of power.
As more break out to do champion the fight against intolerance, injustice and ignorance, the rapper will continue to be unapologetic curators of the soundtrack to each president’s term and America’s most brutal critic.
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five — “The Message”
The de facto song during President Ronald Reagan first term, which took place from 1981 to 1985, “The Message” summed up what life was like for the impoverished American citizen in the Crack Era eighties. For Melle Mel, specifically, the edge was near for him when Reagan was elected United States president.
On “The Message,” he paints a vivid picture of the poverty-stricken surroundings engulfing him, conditions that would add anvil size pressure to any man’s sanity. America wasn’t appointed blame, but “The Message” served as the awakening of an MC and a culture that would view the Reagan Administration as an enemy against the black community.
“The Message” is also regarded as the lyrical bulldozer that knocked down hip-hop’s party house and encouraged fellow MCs to speak from a more socially conscious perspective. A classic track that is timeless, forever.
Honorable Mention: Kurtis Blow – “The Breaks”
Public Enemy – “Fight The Power”
Despite “The Message” showing us the broken state of mind of America’s downtrodden, Reagan won a second term, which lasted from 1985 to 1989. It was then when the actor-turned-politician ran into a lyrical landmine in the form of Chuck D. Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” along with N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” are interchangeable when regarding the song that best captures The Gipper’s second presidential term and the state of America’s ongoing struggle with police brutality.
The two would take different paths to articulate defiance against the abuse of power that police continue to exercise against black and minority citizens. Instead of a middle finger, Public Enemy would raise a black fist in protest. While “Fuck tha Police” is equally as timeless as “Fight The Power,” upon release the latter conquered the world and has continued to be a glowing example of protest music that keeps the fire burning in the heart of protesters still invested in fighting the good fight.
Honorable Mention: N.W.A. – “Fuck tha Police”