Listen to lyrics about Clinton and Trump that offer some clues about the hip-hop vote
Hip-hop artists reflect on 2016 in exclusive interviews with CNN
Editor’s Note: This article contains profanity that some may find offensive.
When it comes to the hip-hop vote in 2016, Newton’s law of energy seems to apply: A campaign at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force.
The unbalanced force in this case is Donald Trump, whose name for years was invoked to signify wealth and power in hip-hop lyrics, but who is now driving artists who had supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders back toward Hillary Clinton.
Enthusiasm for Sanders during the Democratic primary drove energy away from Clinton, often putting her on the defense over issues like criminal justice reform, her ties to Wall Street and her position as a longstanding leader in the Democratic establishment.
Rappers like Lil B, who backed Clinton as early as 2014 in an anthem dedicated to former President Bill Clinton, jumped ship to rally behind the Vermont Senator, who consistently won the majority of young voters throughout the primary.
But now a very public, impassioned and often bitter rejection of Donald Trump from the hip-hop community, has been driving energy back to Clinton.
“I will be voting for Hillary yes!!! If not bernie then her,” Lil B texted CNN earlier this month. “Even tho I am republican cuz im a businessman but my views and heart are democratic and for the people.”
That’s not a universal opinion in the hip-hop community. Diddy, who led the “Vote or Die” campaign in 2004, criticized Clinton in September and said that until she directly engages with the black community, people need to “hold” their votes.
Hip-hop’s attitude toward both Trump and Clinton has undergone an incredible evolution this year; Trump has gone from being an object of respect to a pariah in rap lyrics. Clinton, who has been much less of a presence – a peripheral character – has become a subject of songs in her own right.
What new lyrics tell us about 2016
An in-depth review of thousands of hip-hop lyrics found 318 mentions of Trump between 1989 and 2016 and 101 mentions of Hillary Clinton or the Clintons as a couple, from 1993 thru 2016. The latter figure excludes the prolific references to Bill Clinton alone or references to Monica Lewinsky.
Those numbers take into account an uptick in mentions over the past year. There were a total of 83 songs by 70 different artists that came out between 2015-2016 mentioning Trump and the vast majority of the lyrics condemn the Republican nominee and his politics.
Meanwhile, the review identified only 18 songs by 17 artists – 8 in 2015 and 10, so far, in 2016 – that mention Clinton.
“These guys who come out against Trump are not coming out pro-Hillary,” hip-hop educator Omekongo Dibinga told CNN. “A lot of the rappers, when Obama was running, they were actively Obama.”
When YG released “FDT,” which stands for “F*** Donald Trump,” in March, the self-proclaimed “non-political” rapper quickly rose to become one of rap’s most outspoken Trump critics.
But when asked if he plans on voting for Clinton, YG said that he might not vote at all because he doesn’t even know “if our votes count.”
“Out of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I would rather Clinton be president but just overall, I would rather Obama have a third term,” YG told CNN in August.
Compared to the hip-hop community’s full-throated and raw endorsement of Obama in 2008 in songs like Jeezy’s “My President (is black),” the embrace of Clinton is tepid at best.
Clinton supporter and former South Carolina state Representative Bakari Sellers argues that 2016 and 2008 are incomparable because Clinton can’t compete with the first black president.
“Hillary Clinton is not as symbolic as Barack Obama,” Sellers said, “but what is very symbolic is that rap and hip-hop – the reason it exists – it tells the pain that these communities come from, and there’s no better example of that pain than Donald Trump.”
Some examples of positions that put Trump at odds with the vast majority of the hip-hop community: In 2012 Trump became the most prominent voice in the birther movement, questioning Obama’s birthplace and the authenticity of his birth certificate and he still insists that the Central Park Five are guilty.
And in 2016, Trump slammed the “Black Lives Matter” movement, accused civil rights groups of instigating some killings of police officers, called for more cops on the streets and vowed to investigate the group if he becomes President.
While she rarely factors into their lyrics, some of hip-hop’s biggest names including Beyoncé, Kanye West, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Jeezy and most recently, Chance the Rapper, backed Clinton as early as 2014.
Los Angeles rapper Ty Dolla $ign, who raps, “I don’t f*** with Donald Trump, he don’t like us,” in the 2015 remix of “Blasé,” said that while “nobody is excited” about Clinton, she has his vote.
“Hillary, yeah, she lied about a couple of things, but wouldn’t you rather have somebody who lies like every single human being instead of a racist?” he told CNN.
Trump’s fall from hip-hop grace
The first mentions of Trump begin in 1989 when the rising celebrity billionaire had already become a household name. Trump Tower in New York City and Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City were powerful symbols of the Trump empire and were frequented by many rappers.
Rapper and singer Lizzo cautioned that artists like to rap about money and “Trump” is an easy word to rhyme with, so a Trump mention is not necessarily a sign of respect for the man, himself, but respect for what he has.
Nevertheless, mentions of the billionaire businessman have been overwhelmingly positive until he declared his bid for the presidency in June 2015.
In DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s 1989 song “Numero Uno,” Will Smith raps, “Cause you’re gambling just like craps at Trump,” and in the duo’s 1989 song, “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson,” Smith raps, “Me and Mike, two months, Trump, Atlantic City.”
In the 1994 song, “211,” Master P raps, “Put more cash in my pockets than Donald Trump.”
At the time, Trump was making appearances on shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and was hanging out with hip-hop moguls like Diddy and Russell Simmons.
While Trump the businessman was largely free from scrutiny, Trump the politician has been passionately rejected, most recently in songs like Run the Jewels’ “Talk To Me” and Eminem’s “Campaign Speech.”
YG’s anti-Trump anthem offers a direct reflection on the progression of Trump’s symbolism in the hip-hop community over the years:
“Me and all my peoples, we always thought he was straight. Influential m****f**** when it came to the business. But now, since we know how you really feel, this how we feel — F*** Donald Trump,” YG raps.
“I was in the Trump Towers looking for some shower gel,” Nicki Minaj raps in the 2011 song, “New York Minute (remix)”, before backing Clinton in 2016 and calling Trump’s campaign “hilarious” and “childish.”
Rick Ross, who rapped about Trump and his brand nine times since 2008, came under fire for his 2015 lyrics in “Free Enterprise,” where he raps, “Assassinate Trump like I’m Zimmerman.”
In an emotional letter to his “old friend” Trump last December, hip-hop entrepreneur Simmons lamented the end of their friendship and urged Trump to “stop fueling fires of h