Young Jeezy's "My President" was the anthem of the 2008 presidential election. The song captured the enthusiasm of a gaggle of young Barack Obama supporters, and elevated Jeezy to semi-prophet status, as he recorded the track long before Obama emerged as the prohibitive favorite in the general election. Jeezy steps out of his lyrical comfort zone, highlighting the faults the Bush administration and calling attention to the economic collapse. Nas joins Jeezy for a guest verse, delivering incisive political criticism in line with much of his previous work. More than any other performance or commodity, the "My President" cemented the association between Obama and hip-hop.
Another factor contributing to the Obama/hip-hop association is the tendency to commoditize and sell blackness as the mark of trendiness: Obama is young, and he is black/biracial, and he plays basketball, and he charismatic, and that makes him cool. And if he is cool, he must be down with hip-hop, because hip-hop is cool too. We can actually hear this happening in Jeezy's "My President," with its chorus, "My President is black, my Lambo is blue." Obama's race is what makes him stylish—his color serves the same function as the car's paint job.
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During his presidential campaign, Obama danced between the raindrops when the topic of hip-hop was raised, demonstrating pop cultural literacy without allowing himself to be cast as a representative of hip-hop culture. Despite "My President" and the fact that Obama's name continues to find its way into rap music, the president's public stance can be summed up in two basic statements, documented by legendary hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang. First, hip-hop deserves attention because it reflects and shapes reality, and we have to address the representations of sex and materialism that critics rightly object to. And second, though he might listen to rap on occasion, most of his "iPod probably is either jazz classics—Coltrane, Miles Davis—or it's got the songs of [his] youth." In other words, Obama is not deeply invested in hip-hop practice or identity.
For these reasons, those critical of the hip-hop/Obama connection have a right to be upset. We have to guard against the sloppy racial reasoning that fuels pop-cultural romanticism. But even though Obama does not claim a hip-hop identity, there are elements that both hip-hop and Obama share.
Hip-hop's coolness is more complicated than mere trendiness, and it cannot be described as coolness in the traditional sense—unflappability. Part of what makes hip-hop appealing is that performances often embody contradiction, allowing for the simultaneous expression of vulnerability and pride, and trumpeting countervailing beliefs and desires. The worst commercial hip-hop glorifies sexism and conspicuous consumption, but many of the most popular rappers give voice to the dissonance within each of us.