Hip-Hop and Election 2020

The views expressed in this piece are the views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of RockTheBells.com or ROCK THE BELLS, Inc. as a brand.

 

The 2020 Election season is almost over.

While battling a pandemic, and dealing with a racial reckoning that was frankly long overdue, Americans go to the polls today, Tues., Nov. 3, 2020. Trump/Pence vs. Biden/Harris has been as contentious and as hostile as could be expected; there is much discussion about how divided our country has supposedly become. Trump's presidency has exacerbated divisions that have always been there; and his fight to maintain his position has seen him, once again, stoking fires of racism and hate to stay in office. 

But one particularly distressing subplot of this year's election, at least for me, has been the ongoing conversation surrounding rappers and their supposed support of Trump as the election year winds down. It's turned into a major talking point -- with good reason, no doubt; but those conversations have left me cold. There seems to still be an idea that Hip-Hop must answer for something. And, god forbid, if this election goes a certain way, there will be those who will blame "those rappers."

To be clear, "those rappers" includes Ice Cube, 50 Cent and Lil Wayne; high profile Hip-Hop names who have been branded Trump supporters in recent weeks. But Ice Cube, who met with Trump in early October to discuss Cube's "Contract With Black America," has never endorsed Trump or anyone. Cube has been accused of everything from greed to hypocrisy, but he's stated repeatedly that his contract is a bipartisan issue, and he never gave credence to Trump or Trump's administration. It's fair to say that Cube has mishandled the criticisms he's faced:  his answers have grown increasingly defensive and dismissive when pressed about the lack of emphasis on Black women's issues in his contract, and he seems to be driven by a sense of self-importance. But there is no evidence that he's lying about his intention or that he's trying to encourage voter apathy. Demanding the Democrats don't take Black votes for granted is nothing new. Likening Cube's position to Trump "support" is a reach. 

50 Cent, for his part, has always seemed to take a certain amount of glee in trolling on social media. His "Trump endorsement" was a snarky social media post about Biden's tax plan; as 50 complained that he didn't want to become "20 Cent" under heavy taxation. It never sounded like a serious endorsement of Trump. But the media latched onto it as though it was; it was treated like anything but a silly IG post because everyone's supposed to take everything seriously when T-R-U-M-P's name is mentioned. As a result, there was a deluge of thinkpiece rhetoric before 50 admitted he wasn't sincere. Now, that's being called a "walk back," when it's ridiculous that everyone took it so seriously in the first place. 

 

And, of course, then there's Lil Wayne.

Of the aforementioned rappers, Wayne is the only one who has shown himself to be an actual Trump supporter. Whatever speculation anyone has as to why he posed for a photo op with the President in the run-up to the 2020 Election, it's clear that Wayne has thrown his name, rep and brand behind 45. It isn't all that shocking:  Wayne has been famously disconnected from Black community issues like Black Lives Matter, and he once took heat for making light of Emmitt Till's murder

These three men have three different stances and, even if one feels criticism is warranted, it should be obvious that they are not all guilty of the same offense. Is it just a product of the times that nuance and specificity have taken a backseat to easy generalizations and online grandstanding? 

 

The framing of rappers as generally "pro-Trump" echoes a broader talking point that has become pervasive in recent weeks:  the idea that Black men are somehow going to swing this election for Trump. Across social media, and across major left-leaning platforms, a din has grown that suggests that if Trump wins, it will be because Black men gave him the election. It's lazy and racist to take outliers and treat them like examples of a phenomenon amongst Black men. The majority of Black men in America are as anti-Trump as Black women and the Black community, in general, but there's a growing wave who seems to be readying Black men to be the scapegoat should this election go in Trump's favor. We shouldn't let that become the narrative. 

Hip-Hop is often put on trial. It's still viewed by so many people as this ignorant artform performed by misogynists and morons; which is why it's so easy for people to make negative generalizations whenever any rapper does something they find reprehensible. After Chrisette Michele and Sam Moore sang at Trump's inauguration, there was no widespread dissection of soul singers and their support of Trump. Moore and Michele were treated as individuals who'd taken a wrong turn (and the backlashes should look over-the-top and unnecessary with four years of hindsight). When James Brown and Sammy Davis, Jr. endorsed Nixon, was there an examination of Tricky Dick's appeal with Black guys -- or maybe the appeal was just with really good dancers? It sounds silly because it would've been silly.

There have been a lot of thinkpieces written about rappers and their "love" of Trump over the years. One of the pieces I regret writing happened to be about that particular subject. I regret the piece because it pretends to not know that rappers in the 80s/90s/00s using Trump's name as shorthand for wealth was never an embracing of all that he represents; just like a rapper saying "I drop bombs like Hiroshima" was never an endorsement of the atomic bomb. But, when it comes to Hip-Hop, it's easy -- even encouraged -- to dumb everything down, even the commentary and criticism. It doesn't seem to matter that Common, 2 Chainz, Diddy and Cardi B are among the Hip-Hop stars who have endorsed Biden/Harris; if there's a chance to scream "FIRE!" in a thinkpiece, someone will do it. 

I have no invested interest in the defense of celebrities or of celebrity as a thing; but one of the go-to responses to criticisms of "cancel culture" is that "it doesn't exist." Well, if you're measuring it by its affect on rich peoples' bottom lines, then I agree. But there is a culture of hyper-reactionary moralism, a tendency towards knee-jerk vilification, and a distressing tendency to paint in broad strokes, that has undoubtedly been fueled by the very nature of social media and the writing that is overly beholden to popular social media rhetoric. 

One of the reasons this election year has been so exhausting is watching how Trump's very presence invites hysterics. He's cultivated this for more than four years, and so many people seem to be operating from a place of hyperbole. To be certain, I believe that this presidency must end now and we can attempt to reroute some of the damage done. But throwing Black people under the bus is always unfair in a country that seems to only recognize us when it needs us for something. It was never Black folks' job to save this election. Don't blame Trump on us. 

Please get out and VOTE. 

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