Paint the White House Black!! A Critical Discourse Analysis Look at Hip Hop's Social, Cultural, and Political Influence on the Presidency of Barack Obama

By Richmond, Sanford K. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Paint the White House Black!! A Critical Discourse Analysis Look at Hip Hop's Social, Cultural, and Political Influence on the Presidency of Barack Obama


Richmond, Sanford K., The Western Journal of Black Studies


SANFORD K. RICHMOND--INDEPENDENT RESEARCHER

Hip Hop isn't Dead, It's Sittin in the White House

Hip hop music and culture is a genre that was birthed in the post-civil rights era of America; bred in the streets of New York and Los Angeles (Boyd, 1997; Chang, 2005; George, 1998; Quinn, 2005). As the music and culture evolved throughout the 80s and 90s, the genre grew more oppositional in nature; overt forms of expression that involved narratives of political resistance, economic mobility through ghetto conflict and struggle, and overt sexual exploits, had garnered in much success and much criticism (Boyd, 1997; Boyd, 2002; Chang, 2005; Quinn, 2005; George, 1998). This cultural dissent that hip hop embodies, makes hip hop a target for social moralists of all races and political interest; moralists that include many in the black community.

The guiding theme from many of the hip hop detractors in the African American community is that "hip hop is bad for black people." Not only do many in the black community believe hip hop is detrimental to black existence, but they also feel it destabilizes the efforts of African Americans to obtain social and economic mobility. Thus, hip hop undermines the gains of the civil rights movement who fought so diligently to make racial equality a reality for African Americans (Goff, 2008). However, a man that would become the first black president in U.S history would arguably defy this notion of hip hop undermining the reality of what a black person could achieve in America more than ever.

In 2004, a young Senator from Illinois was introduced into the national spotlight by virtue of an electrifying speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention. This young Senator went by the name of Barack Hussein Obama; and this speech would make him an instant political phenomenon (Basu, 2004; Freedland, 2009).

From the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama developed a massive following of supporters across the country who wanted him to run for president. On his quest to the presidency, a timeline began that would involve big-time hip hop artists and big-time hip hop controversy. In November of 2006, Obama had a meeting with hip hop superstar, Ludacris, about Ludacris' Youth/Aids "Kick Me" campaign; a campaign that was motivated to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among innercity youth ("Sen. Obama," 2006).

Around the same time, Obama had dinner with another hip hop superstar, Jay-Z. The dinner involved his upcoming plans to run for president, which were still in doubt at the time (Winfrey, 2009). Then on February 10, 2007, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the President of the United States (Barabak, 2007). As the campaign became underway, Obama's relationship with hip hop began to be more public. In a Black Entertainment Television (BET) interview, he was asked by BET journalist at the time, Jeff Johnson, "Do you like hip hop?" His answer was, "of course." He admitted he was currently listening to Jay-Z's album, American Gangster, and that he was also a fan of hip hop star, Kanye West ("USA President," 2008).

Admitting he was a fan of hip hop, with his nearly relaxed response, "of course," wasn't as innocuous of an answer as one might think. During the time of this interview, BET initiated a series called Hip Hop vs. America, which featured a panel of scholars, journalists and social activists within hip hop and within Black America debating intensely about hip hop and what it represented (Rose, 2008).

The series attracted many hip hop adversaries who spoke long and harsh of what they believed hip hop signified: immorality, negativity, annihilation of the African American image, and etc. Consequently, after all this, Obama's response, specifically on BET, symbolized where he stood to all of his supporters. This interview, for better or worse, would set the tone throughout the duration of his campaign, and become a prelude to the enormous amount of attention paid to his relationship with hip hop. …

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