Since the early days of rap, expression has always been one of its main pillars. Rap music has always spoke about community issues and struggles they may have faced, and at times that may have come at expense of the country’s Commander in Chief.
Since the Reagan days, rappers have been critical of presidential figures whether it’s about the country’s issues, their personalities, their reforms and programs, or even if their name is mentioned in a less than flattering manner. Most issues are completely one-sided (can you imagine Donald Trump creating a song called “FYG”?) but some have caught the eye of the POTUS. Here are a few of the best.
Rappers vs. Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1989)
Hip-hop hates Ronald Reagan. Like hates Ronald Reagan. If a group of rappers born in the mid-’80s to early ’90s formed a Justice League-esque group, Ronald Reagan would be the villainous Lex Luthor, floating out of a swamp in his Hall of Doom. Despite Reagan’s presidency ending almost 30 years ago, his practices and impact in America lives through the expressive lyrics of hip hop from Public Enemy to Kendrick Lamar and everywhere in-between. Lyrics like “How we stop the Black Panthers? / Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer” by Kanye West (“Crack Music”) or “Blame Reagan for making me into a monster / Blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra / I ran contraband that they sponsored” by JAY Z (“Blue Magic”) highlight the decisions and policies of Reagan that led to the deterioration of urban neighborhoods with the introduction of crack cocaine. Ironically enough, the regression of black and latino communities would help introduce to the world the form of social expression we know today as hip hop. While mainstream America applauds the reforms and efforts of Ronald Reagan, you’d be pressed to find a hip hop talent who agrees.
Sister Souljah vs. Bill Clinton (1992)
Nobel Peace Prize winning Toni Morrison once called Bill Clinton “the first black president”, but not everything was as sweet for Clinton when he was a presidential nominee. The controversy surrounding the Rodney King beating and 1992 L.A. Riots was a critical and intense time in race relations for America. In an interview with the Washington Post just a little more than a week after the riots ended, political activist and MC Sister Souljah shook the nation with her statement, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?.. White people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person? Do you think that somebody thinks that white people are better, are above and beyond dying, when they would kill their own kind?”
Then-Presidential Candidate Bill Clinton would respond by misquoting and representing Sister Souljah’s words, accusing her of promoting murder with a strange comparison to David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. Souljah retorted by calling Clinton a racist and hypocrite, before he eventually apologized.
Eminem vs. George Bush (2004)
Despite the loving memes with Michelle Obama and his stance against current President Donald Trump, George Bush was far from a popular president. Hell, he finished his term with a final approval rating of 22%. That’s terrible by any spectrum of the imagination. Bush met one of his most prominent detractors late into his first term in Eminem, who took aim at the president in his politically-charged single “Mosh” . While Eminem had been previously known for going back and forth with pop culture savants, a political protest record was new territory for Eminem as he criticized the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq despite issues growing on the homefront. “Let the President answer a higher anarchy / Strap him with an AK-47, let him go / Fight his own war, let him impress Daddy that way / No more blood for oil / We got our own battles to fight on our own soil,” he raps. He wouldn’t be the first rapper to criticize the presidency of George Bush, but he might’ve been the biggest until…
Kanye West vs. George Bush (2005)
This year will mark twelve years since the horrific devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its response/aftermath. It will also mark twelve years since the most public, defiant statement against a president on a national platform. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, Kanye West proclaimed as Mike Myers’ eyes darted nervously beside him on an NBC Telethon. The statement was sudden, yet impactful. It echoed the thoughts of millions of worldwide who saw how African Americans were treated and portrayed in the wake of Katrina’s devastation. It was expressive and as hip hop as it gets. George Bush would later reveal the statement infuriated him, and being labeled a racist was “one of the most disgusting moments of his presidency.” Five years later, Kanye West would agree that he didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist. Despite his feelings afterwards, the statement at the times sent shockwaves through the mass media and opened up a discussion on race on how residents of New Orleans were treated during this terrible period.
Lil Wayne vs. George Bush (2006)
At this point, you can tell how hated George Bush was as president when at least three out of ten top 10 rappers of all-time has got him on their hit list. Before the release of his Dedication 2 track “Georgia…Bush,” Lil Wayne’s content was pretty straight-forward: cash, women, drugs, streets. It wasn’t hard to wrap your brain around what he was delivering. But when tragedy showed up to his front door in the form of Hurricane Katrina, he felt a duty to speak about it as a native son of Louisiana. “Georgia…Bush” was created and left no stone unturned. “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,” Wayne raps. He would further speak about the terrible response, America’s depiction of black people as “looters”, police brutality, and the people who were lost in this disaster. There has been no retort from George Bush on this track, but Lil Wayne got his point across and made Louisiana proud.
Kanye West vs. Barack Obama (2011)
You know you’ve hit a terrible corner in life when the President takes time out of his day to refer to you as a “jackass”. In an off-record comment that would surface, Barack Obama was asked about the Taylor Swift-VMA’s incident of 2009, and his retort was, “The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She’s getting her award. What’s he doing up there? He’s a jackass.” Oof. At some point in 2012 in an interview with The Atlantic, Obama would double-down on the jackass statement but following up with “But he’s talented”. Some time later, Barack Obama would again insert Kanye West — and now his wife Kim Kardashian, into a statement when speaking about the “distortion of the American Dream” and how it’s changed from striving for a good education and job to lifestyles of the rich (“Kids weren’t monitoring every day what Kim Kardashian was wearing, or where Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that was somehow a mark of success”). Apparently that would be the action that finally set him off. In a follow up interview with 107.9, Ye would simply say ““Well I feel like he shouldn’t mention my baby mama name...You know, we both from Chicago, and you know...”
Eventually, the two Chicagoans would ease tensions when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West would visit the white house and it was all smiles.
Lupe Fiasco vs. Barack Obama (2011)
When it comes to the political landscape of the country, I wouldn’t imagine there’s much Lupe Fiasco likes (have you heard “American Terrorist”)? In 2011 however, he would take a sharper stance on things with the release of his Lasers-single “Words I Never Said” featuring Skylar Grey. Holding no punches, he raps about the political climate and not voting for Obama (“Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit / That’s why I ain’t vote for him, the next one either…”). Fair, fair enough. Freedom of speech is alive and well. It would escalate to another level soon after when he referred to Obama as “the biggest terrorist in the United States of America” on CBS. A few years later, somehow he was asked to perform at an event during Inauguration Weekend in 2013 and used the opportunity to make a political stance in a “thirty minute anti-war rant” and was eventually kicked off stage. One would hope that these two Chicagoans could hash it out like with Kanye West, but I don’t necessarily see that happening.
YG vs. Donald Trump (2016)
“Since we know how you really feel, this how we feel,” may be the PG, spark notes summary of a track aptly titled “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump).” Rarely does a political stance become a full out banger, but YG managed to craft a radio-ready (but not radio-played) anthem against our current President long before he was elected into office. “FDT” felt a party, act of defiance, a war cry all wrapped into one three minute and forty six second package. For all Americans, citizens, non-citizens and immigrants, who themselves have felt persecuted by ideals, decisions, and promises he made prior to entering offices. The LAPD shut down the video shoot, but the ‘Still Brazy’ video managed to see the light of day.
Snoop Dogg vs. Donald Trump (2017)
It’s come to this. Between gorgeous hits like “Beautiful” and omnipresent bangers like “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Snoop Dogg’s music has always been an candy coat-painted escape from political and social strife. However in the music video of BADBADNOTGOOD remix to “Lavender” he makes takes a firm stance against President Trump, by aiming a gun at a clown-painted Donald Trump impersonator. “I feel like it’s a lot of people making cool records, having fun, partying, but nobody’s dealing with the real issue with this f—king clown as president, and the shit that we dealing with out here, so I wanted to take time out to push pause on a party record and make one of these records for the time being,” Snoop Dogg told Billboard.
Days after it was released Donald Trump took to his Twitter account (where most of his unfiltered, grammatically incorrect thoughts are sent to the world) to condemn Snoop Dogg. “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail Time!,” he tweeted. Snoop Dogg still stands by his form of artistic expression and Fox News anchors believes he should be killed by the secret service. What a time to be alive.