The President of the United States has many roles: commander-in-chief, head of state, chief comforter in times of tragedy, national model of the American dad. But President Obama has a unique role in American culture -- Explainer-in-Chief for Rap Music -- not only because he's the first black president, but because he's the first president who was in college in the 1980s. The baby boomer presidents that preceded him -- and their vice presidents and the vice presidents' wives -- were more likely to associate youthful rebellion with classic rock. Obama is probably the first to hear "Don't Stop Believin'" and think of old people.
In his latest action as Rap Explainer-in-Chief, Obama told Power 95.3's Orlando listeners about Nicki Minaj and her fondness for donning alternate personas in her lyrics. "We've got a nice hip-hop collection on our iPods," said of his and Michelle's music tastes, prompting the radio host to cut in, asking what he thought of the controversial report that Minaj endorsed Mitt Romney based on her lyrics on a Lil Wayne mixtape. ("I'm a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/ You lazy bitches are fucking up the economy.") Obama quickly countered, "I'm not sure that's actually what happened... I think she had a song on there, a little rap that said that… She likes to play different characters." We don't want to question the authority of our R-E-I-C, but he could have added that some of Minaj's characters rap about eating brains and other things she clearly doesn't do in real life. Update: Minaj confirms the president's interpretation is correct.
Earlier this year, The Atlantic's David Samuels reported that Obama had been happy to explain the relative genius of Jay-Z and Kanye West. Obama preferred Jay-Z, "Although I like Kanye,... He’s a Chicago guy. Smart. He’s very talented." Even though Obama once called him a jackass? "He is a jackass," Obama said, "But he’s talented." And in 2010, Obama explained to Rolling Stone the necessity of expanding one's iPod playlist, which he had done thanks to his aide Reggie Love, "My rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert."
And rappers return the favor, explaining Obama to the masses. Snoop Dogg -- now rebranded as Snoop Lion -- gave reporters at a Toronto Film Festival press conference the very short version of Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention. Agence France-Presse reports:
Former President George W. Bush "fucked up for eight years so you at least gotta give [Obama] eight years. He cleaned up half the shit in four years realistically," the rapper said.
"It ain't like you gave him a clean house. Y'all gave him a house with a TV that didn't work, the toilet was stuffed up; everything was wrong with the house."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.