ATLANTA — Not only is President Barack Obama the nation’s first black president, but it’s safe to say he has been America’s first hip-hop commander-in-chief.
Obama embraced hip-hop more than any of his predecessors: He’s Jay Z’s lyrics and Kanye West in speeches, released playlists on Spotify that included Nas, Chance the Rapper, Mos Def and Method Man, and was caught dancing to Drake’s “Hot Line Bling” at a White House event.
And in a recent televised concert celebrating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Obama was shown rapping along when Public Enemy’s Chuck D performed “Fight the Power.”
Ice Cube called Obama an anomaly.
“It will probably be a long time before we see another president do something like this,” the Hall of Fame rapper said. “It was kind of a now-or-never thing.”
Throughout his presidency, which ends when President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Friday, Obama paved a way for several rap stars to enter the White House for political discussion and musical performances.
Concerts have taken place at the White House since the 1800s when President John Adams was the first occupant. A few rappers, such as Run-DMC, visited the mansion to meet previous presidents over the years.
But the Obama administration gave them a prominent role. In 2011, Common performed poetry at an event at the White House, though Big Sean’s 2014 performance is considered by some to be the first true rap performance at there, when he joined Ariana Grande for “Right There.”
Since then, a barrage of rappers have taken the stage there, including Wale and Kendrick Lamar, whom Obama has praised often (he cited Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost from the rapper’s black-empowerment album “To Pimp a Butterfly” as his favorite song of 2015).
In November, BET saluted the Obamas with a star-studded concert celebrating a mixture of gospel, R&B and rap music; the president and first lady Michelle Obama joyously danced as De La Soul rapped their classic “Me Myself and I.” Earlier this month, several hip-hop artists including Wale, Chance the Rapper and J. Cole took part in another private farewell jam at the White House.
Obama held up flash cards as “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a freestyle rap in Rose Garden area of the White House. Mrs. Obama even got into the rap act, performing a comedic one with former “Saturday Night Live” star Jay Pharoah to promote her college initiatives. (The president never tried to rap publicly himself, admitting once: “That’s one thing I can’t do is rap. I like rap but I cannot rap.”)
“Hip-hop doesn’t hurt anybody,” said Nas, who has visited the White House. “It helps people. Some of the nicest people in the world are hip-hop artists. (Obama) respects it. He loves it. It’s a part of his world. He is hip-hop. He’s a hip-hop fan that makes him relatable. It makes him real.”
Last year, Obama invited several rappers – including Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Ludacris – to the White House to discuss different ways to continue the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and spur justice reform in the United States.
“It was a gathering of the minds,” said Ludacris, who was once criticized by Obama for his politically-themed rap song called “Politics” in 2008. “That was extremely important for hip-hop, because he’s giving us a voice. He’s done a great job of supporting hip-hop and certain artists, continuing to say we should put out positive messages. I think he’s done enough. We’ve made strides.”
Now, several rappers are paying homage to Obama. Lamar said hip-hop owes Obama some gratitude for giving rap artists an opportunity to visit the White House. Chance the Rapper joined actor Kenan Thompson saluting Obama’s presidency in holiday-themed tribute “Jingle Barack” on “Saturday Night Live” last month.
DJ Khaled said he was honored to visit the White House for the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative along with his rap cohorts.
“Obama always represents hip-hop in so many ways,” Khaled said. “His playlist is hip-hop. I’ve been to the White House. I’m hip-hop. It was a major key for me. He represents all cultures. That’s what a president is supposed to do.”
Story: Johnathan Landrum Jr.