What hip hop lyrics tell us about Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton as a hip hop icon
Hillary Clinton as a hip hop icon

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Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton has featured in a number of hip-hop tracks
  • She might try to capitalize on the hip-hop community to turn out young voters

Washington (CNN)In her starring role in Robin Thicke's newest single "Back Together," rapper Nicki Minaj name drops Hillary Clinton: "Used to call me Hillary cause I ride 'em," which is a play off of Hillary Clinton's maiden name, "Rodham."

The video for "Back Together" was released Thursday and while tweeting about the release, Minaj highlighted the Clinton lyric. A fan on Instagram noted that they have seen this play on words in reference to Clinton done before: "That's so lame Lil Wayne did that line so long ago," one commented, referencing Lil Wayne's 2008 hit "Lollipop."
    While another fan tweeted, "this verse is up there with some of your best, it's amazing."
    For hip-hop fans, a Clinton reference is not news because the former First Lady has been mentioned in rap lyrics for decades.
    The Democratic frontrunner would tie Ronald Reagan for oldest president on Inauguration Day if elected and a hip-hop boost might be just what she needs when it comes to connected with a diverse group of young voters.
    Clinton has began racking up a slew of endorsements from rappers and hip-hop artists since 2012 and the Clinton campaign is not letting them go unnoticed.
    About a month after she announced her presidential bid, "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon, noted Clinton's growing number of hip-hop endorsements and said "Thank you Hillary Clinton for getting endorsed for president by several rappers," nicknaming her "Ghostface Hillah," after the Wu-Tan Clan's Ghostface Killah.
    Clinton responded with a Tweet: "Thanks, @jimmyfallon—but we actually prefer this," posting the logo "RUN HRC" in red, white and blue, which is a play off of the logo of the classic 80s-90s hip hop group RUN—D.M.C.
    The Clinton campaign also boasted about an endorsement from Queen Bey, herself, by not-so-subtly pointing out that Clinton has Beyoncé's support.
    And on the night of the first Republican debate, Clinton posted a selfie with rapper and hip-hop mogul Kanye West and his reality star wife Kim Kardashian, with the caption "new friends."

    New friends. (via @kimkardashian)

    A photo posted by Hillary Clinton (@hillaryclinton) on

    Can Clinton cash in on her hip-hop boost at the polls?

    "A celebrity endorsement is not going to persuade you to vote for a person but a celebrity endorsement will make it so that it's cool to tell people you're voting for somebody," Sam Popkin, a political science professor who specializes in voter behavior, told CNN."They make it cool to be for Hillary Clinton and not something to keep to yourself."
    While older Americans who have followed Clinton for decades might have already made up their minds about her, many millennials are still getting to know her — some for the first time. And they are the ones whose impressions of Clinton can be more effectively shaped by these endorsements, Popkin says.
    "The Beyoncé endorsement is a big deal" because it enables Clinton to build "a real identity" in the world of Beyoncé and Jay-Z," he argued. "That's what Clinton never did in 2008."
    During the 2008 election, as hip-hop artists backed Obama, Atlanta rapper and actor Ludacris caught heat for his lyrics slamming Clinton: "Hillary hated on you, so that b---- is irrelevant." The song was called "Politics: Obama is Here," and it drew condemnation from the Obama campaign.
    At a 2008 Jefferson Jackson dinner before the Iowa caucuses, for instance, Clinton showed up with the legendary producer, musician and philanthropist Quincy Jones. Meanwhile, Obama showed up with Grammy award-winning R&B star John Legend, who has a younger following.
    This time around, Clinton has already connected herself to Legend by including his hit "Wake Up Everybody," featuring The Roots, Common and Melanie Fiona, in her campaign's official 2016 Spotify playlist.
    While these pop culture attempts to connect with young voters can garner attention for the campaign, she has work to do where it comes to young and engaged political activists.
    Clinton and her fellow Democratic candidates have left the civil rights activists associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement generally unimpressed and unsatisfied.
    The campaign recently kept protesters out of a Clinton event, arguing it was at capacity. Clinton later met with protesters for 15 minutes.
    In a post titled "Why Hillary Clinton's 'RUN HRC' isn't okay" in "Blavity: The Voice of Black Millennials," Victoria Massie writes: "We are not just swagger to be exchanged ... If Clinton wants to begin sincerely courting us for more than celebrity support, she must be willing to love us and our issues as much as she loves our musical legacies. She cannot bank on us having her back if she does not have ours."
    In the past few months Clinton has invoked "black lives matter" at campaign events, called for police body cameras, called out GOP candidates on voting rights and rolled out a plan to make college more affordable.
    Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, who served as an adviser to P Diddy during the rappers' 2004 Vote or Die campaign, said that while Clinton's hip-hop endorsements could "generate interest and enthusiasm" for her run, whether people like her policies will be what drives voters to the polls.

    The Bill Clinton boost

    Some of the positive references to Clinton are ones in which she is tied to her husband, who was largely popular in many black communities in the 1990s.
    Following Bill Clinton's 1998 impeachment, novelist Toni Morrison wrote that Clinton was mistreated because of his "Blackness," reflecting the strong connection that the former President shared with African Americans.
    Morrison famously referred to Clinton as America's "first black president." The phrase was adopted by some Clinton supporters but was also considered offensive by others.
    "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas," Morrison wrote.
    But during the 2008 primary when black Americans literally had the chance to elect America's first black president, a record number of black voters threw their support behind Obama. And whether this key component of the Obama coalition will go to bat for Clinton at the polls this time around is yet to be seen.

    The power couple boost

    The reference to Bill and Hillary Clinton's relationship in Thicke and Minaj's "Back Together" is part of a larger trend.
    While Clinton's popularity throughout her career has fluctuated, positive references to the Clintons as a unit continued in lyrics, even after her primary fight against Obama.
    In Yo Gotti's 2012 track "We Can Get it On,", the Memphis rapper links the Clintons to celebrity couples, largely celebrated and admired in the black community: "We like Tiny and Tip, maybe Puffy and Kim, Michelle and Obama, maybe Jada and Will we like Hova and B, maybe Hillary, Bill, we can be who eva we wanna shawty long as we real," referencing rapper T.I and Tiny, P. Diddy and Kim Porter, the Obamas, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith and of course, Beyonce and Jay-Z.
    References like that are common.
    Even after endorsing Obama in 2008 Ludacris made a reference to Clinton in "Let's Stay Together," a track that also links the couple to the Smiths: "Let's stay together ... If Will and Jada can do it, then why can't we? Hillary is still with Bill Clinton, how did they do it?"
    And in Juvenile's 2009 track "Make U Feel Alright" featuring Kango Slim, the Clintons are yet again linked to the Smiths: "Got'chu feelin me the way that Jada feelin Will and Hillary feelin Bill."

    The power boost

    As Clinton dove into her own political career, artists also rap about her status as a powerful woman. And she is often referred to as "Hillary Rodham," without the "Clinton," in tracks like Nelly's "Grillz," Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" and Jay Z's "Nymp."
    In Young Jeezy's "White Girl," the Atlanta rapper who endorsed Clinton for president in 2016, raps "Hilary Clinton, she my best friend (Tell 'Em)/ Even co-signed for that new white Benz."
    And in the remixed version of Kendrick Lamar's "B---- Don't Kill My Vibe," Jay-Z famously raps: "Sittin' next to Hillary smelling like dank, presidential pardon," stirring speculation about whether the rapper was high at the White House.
    Meanwhile some hip-hop artists like The Game expressed skepticism. In "Letter to the King," featuring iconic rapper Nas, the Los Angeles rapper questions her dedication to the black community: "If Dr. King marched today would Bill Gates march? I know Obama would but would Hillary take part?"
    And in Ice Cube's "Stand Tall," the former member of N.W.A. raps: "Never put your trust in Hillary Rodham, cause I can tell you now it's gon' turn out rotten."
    Popkin says that most people don't vote for a candidate merely because of what celebrities say, but how Clinton is viewed by legends of the culture will draw attention to her and that is the value of her hip-hop boost.
    For a candidate who lost both the youth vote and the African American vote in the '08 primary, failing to connect with and energize these two key constituencies of the Obama coalition, could prove to be detrimental at the polls.