Why Hip-Hop and the Obama Administration May Not Always Mix

I am not terribly impressed with the administration's decision to invite Common to perform. I'd rather see President Obama speak up on the issues that Common raps about in his songs.
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The Obama administration stood by its decision to invite the "controversial" rapper Common to the White House for a poetry reading event. Anyone who has heard or seen Common perform understands that this particular artist is about as controversial as a bar of soap. He is socially-conscious and represents values that should receive a broader platform in the troubled hip-hop music industry.

The heat that the Obamas took from the Republicans over their decision to invite Common is, of course, reflective of the fact that they are going to find any reason imaginable to criticize the president. But going deeper, the president is open for such attacks primarily because any socially-conscious hip-hop artist is going to speak on the ills of our society in a direct and impactful way. When Common raps about police brutality, poverty, mass incarceration and poor educational systems, it's almost certain that he's going to find himself face-to-face with the white male dominated power structure that works to keep these systems in place. In other words, much of the Republican party's disposition is built upon maintaining the very systems that Common chooses to oppose.

In a certain regard, the invitation of nearly any rapper to the White House is going to draw criticism. Hip-hop, at least what we hear on the radio, has moved so far away from its roots that even the mildest rappers will throw a "b*tch," "hoe" or "n*gger" into their lyrics every now and then. Careful analysis of the lyrics of Common or anyone else would give the Republicans a healthy feeding ground to remind millions of Americans of exactly why they should continue to be afraid of black men. What's interesting about the lyrics, however is that they remind us that even black men and black women have good reason to be afraid of each other. It's hard for women to enjoy music after hearing artists make jokes about abusing them as sex objects, and black men don't enjoy hearing Lil Wayne encourage other black males to carry guns when they go out in public (note that black men are the greatest victims of hand gun violence in America, typically at the hands of another black male).

When President Obama tried to appear hip during the election by stating that he "keeps some Jay-Z in the iPod," I immediately said to myself, "there is no way on earth that the president actually listens to Jay-Z." Any black man trying to get enough white votes to get into the White House is not going to associate himself with an artist who throws out the words "b*tch" and "n*gga" like confetti at the Macy's parade. This is not to say that Jay-Z doesn't possess tremendous lyrical capability. It is to say that if I were a Republican, I would have simply dug up the lyrics for the Jay-Z song that has the chorus, "99 Problems but a B*tch ain't one," put them on a teleprompter and let Bill O'Reilly go to town.

A final point is that the Obama Administration was right to stick with its decision to invite Common to the White House. By allowing Republicans to bully him into showing his birth certificate, President Obama was already losing the game of political domination. Had the president backed away from Common, he would have only reminded the Republicans that they can control his decisions, especially as they pertain to African Americans. He needed to stand his ground.

I must confess, however, that I am not terribly impressed with the administration's decision to invite Common to perform, since black entertainers are always included in White House events. Instead, I'd rather see President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, two other black men with connections to Chicago, speak up on the issues that Common raps about in his songs. Mass incarceration, for example, is killing black men, destroying our futures and ruining our families. Given that a recent Your Black World survey showed that over 90% of African Americans know someone who's been in prison, there is keen evidence that this problem affects nearly all of us. I'd rather have substance than more entertainment, so I won't be watching Common perform at the White House.

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