Let’s Talk About It: Why Did It Take Hip Hop So Long To Turn Away From Donald Trump?
Evan Vucci—AP

For those of us of a certain age, we remember the days in which Donald Trump was ubiquitous for reasons not related to him being one of the most incompetent, corrupt, and exhausting presidents in U.S. history.

I am reminded of this even when I try to escape this man’s impact on the news cycle, i.e. numerous stories related to varying controversies related to the administration being reported daily. When I turn on old episodes of Sex and the City, The Nanny, or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, there he is. If I turn on childhood favorites like The Little Rascals or Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, there he is again.

Even if I turn the television off and turn on music, there are so many references of him to be found in so many songs — primarily hip hop ones. Recently, DJBooth.net reminded us all of this in a piece entitled “An Awkward History of Trump Rap References That Haven’t Aged Well.” I am familiar with the site, but the person who brought this article to my attention is a man who in now way seems like their target audience.

Indeed, conservative pollster Frank Luntz, who helped write the infamous Contract With America, a document released by the United States Republican Party during the 1994 Congressional election campaign, and did polling for former presidential candidates Pat Buchanan (who used “Make America Great Again” and white resentment prior to Trump) and Ross Perot (who paved the way for billionaires who have no business running for president) is who informed me of the piece. As you can see, Luntz, who more recently helped the Koch Brothers further soil American democracy and temporarily had Cam Newton sounding crazy about race, seems to be in a bit of a tiff that rappers stopped shouting out Bankruptcy Batista in their songs once he became a Republican candidate for president.

Luntz, who has made oblivious white man in America musings his calling cards, truly thinks he said something when he wrote: “Rappers used to brag about hanging out at Trump Tower and wanting to be as successful as Donald Trump. …Until he decided to run as a Republican.” Bless his heart.

As the linked piece makes clear, for nearly three decades, so many of our favorites — A Tribe Called Quest, Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West, Big Sean, Jay Z, UGK, Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj along with numerous others — all referenced Trump in their art. For Luntz, it’s a question of some silly inherent bias. He doesn’t seem to grasp that it’s not so much that Trump is a Republican, but that he is a buffoonish demagogue who used white resentment to ascend to the presidency. And before that, he helped perpetuate a racist conspiracy about the first Black president in order to gain political legitimacy.

Of course rappers don’t want to shout out Donald Trump anymore.

Having said that, Donald Trump being racist is not a new thing. In fact, him being audaciously anti-Black and bluntly bigoted in his rhetoric isn’t new either. I didn’t think about these things as a child. I didn’t really know any better. As an adult, though, I’ve since become familiar with the man who took out a full-page ad calling for the death of the Central Park Five. The guy who was found guilty of housing discrimination. The person who used to make quips like “I have a good relationship with ‘The Blacks.’

Rappers likely used Trump’s name to convey wealth because he had name recognition, he’s a showboat and incredibly gaudy. That to a degree fits with elements of hip hop culture. Even so, the racism is just as synonymous with the Trump brand as bankruptcy and licensing deals are. In fact, Trump Vodka never took off in ways so many rapper-endorsed liquor brands have. As much credit as he gets for The Apprentice, that show doesn’t really match up to much of what hip hop has accomplished over time.

Yet, as recent as 2015 (in tracks like Rae Sremmurd’s “Up Like Trump”), long after the birther movement, Trump was still being exalted in hip hop.

Drew Landy writes in the piece, “It’s crazy how Trump went from a random, iconic celebrity to the despised leader of the free world. From a cameo in Home Alone 2 to defending Neo-Nazis.” Yes, but what’s crazier to me is we kept touting him as some sign of wealth and success despite evidence that one, he didn’t give a damn about us, and two, he wasn’t really that successful when you pull back the veneer of it all. In many ways, hip hop — much like The Apprentice — helped perpetuate that folklore that Donald Trump was some masterful businessman whose image and fortune were to be marveled.

So, if Luntz is interested in a poll about Trump’s relationship with “the Blacks” who rap, it shouldn’t be why hip hop turned on him after became a Republican, but rather why didn’t he turn on him 10, 15, 20, 30 years sooner?

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