Like most Americans, from time to time I make lists of things Barack Obama and I have in common. We both live in Washington. We both think Hawaii is an excellent vacation destination. We both have taken an interest in U.S. counter-terrorism policy. And both President Obama and I have Kanye West in our iTunes music libraries.
Speaking to People Magazine for an end of the year interview, Obama acknowledged he thought Kanye’s music was “outstanding.” But he also said he’d rather socialize with the family from Duck Dynasty than Kanye and his bride Kim Kardashian, who appeared in her husband’s latest music video having sex with him on a motorcycle.
Part of Obama’s initial appeal as a politician in 2008 was that he charmed the hip-hop generation. During the 2008 campaign, my friend Spencer Ackerman noticed Obama’s reference to Jay-Z’s 2003 classic “Dirt off your shoulder” at a campaign event when he made the hand gesture implied in the song’s title. Spencer’s blog post went viral and a meme was born.
For younger voters this was a welcome change of pace. Bill Clinton tried to connect to voters by signaling his love of classic rock. The Clintons in 1992 made their campaign song the perky ode to positive thinking from Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow.” George W. Bush’s iPod had plenty of country music. The 43rd president has said one of his favorite songs is the frat party anthem, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.
When Eazy E, the founder of the group that sang, “F#$K The Police,” attended a White House Luncheon in 1991 for Republican fundraisers, it was treated as a political oddity; Today, Jay Z’s friendship with Obama is treated like Frank Sinatra’s friendship with Jack Kennedy. And while Jay and Obama are in very different fields, they are both natural-born front men.
Since its infancy there has been a division of labor in hip hop between the master of ceremonies (MC), or the rapper, and the DJ who would later become the producer. When hip hop music began as soundtracks to parties in the Bronx, the DJ was the more important than the MC. The MC hyped the party, but the DJ extended the dance breaks on those records to keep the party going. As rap music became a business, the rapper emerged as the star and the DJ who created the sonic landscape for the rapper was relegated, with a few exceptions, to the background.