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 hate.”
Hip-hop legend KRS-One told CNN that while Trump “was a friend to hip-hop in his early days” and “was closer to the urban community” in the 90s, things have changed.
“When we say, look, Donald Trump was a friend to hip-hop back in the day, so was Bill Clinton. It doesn’t mean that because he was a friend to hip-hop back in the day, that the same Bill Clinton wasn’t at the lead of this mass incarceration of African Americans today,” KRS-One said.
Mass incarceration haunts Clinton
Over the last 25 years, hip-hop artists have expressed mixed feelings towards Hillary Clinton, ranging from affection and loyalty, to skepticism, cynicism and distrust.
The first mentions of Clinton came out in 1993, when Bill Clinton began his first term as President. Early lyrics show that issues like criminal justice reform began to haunt the Democratic nominee early on and continued through 2016.
“Talkin’ to the commander-in-chief of the army Mr. Bill Clinton and the bird Hillary/ Wrap up the war/ Wrap up the war on the brutality/ I want to see more happy people,” Prince Ital Joe raps in the 1993 song, “Happy People.
“Never put your trust in Hillary Rodham/ Cause I can tell you now it’s gonna turn out rotten,” Ice Cube raps in the 2008 song, “Stand Tall.”
And in the 2016 song “Let Me Know,” The Game raps, “Trump and Hillary both cons/ Backstab us like the bullets in back of LaQuan.”
But perhaps the most direct and impassioned rebuke of Clinton comes from Tef Poe, a St. Louis rapper, who became one of the most outspoken activists following the police shooting death of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed in Ferguson.
Tef Poe admonishes the Democratic nominee in the 2015 song, “Hillary,” and declares that he will withhold his vote.
“Hillary Clinton still tellin’ lies on the channel … so Democrats never did ride for me …. we don’t want no more Bill Clinton hand-me-downs,” he raps.
Karen Civil, a hip-hop media entrepreneur and author, says that while what happened in the past is “an unfortunate situation,” Clinton is now “taking accountability” by meeting with activists and engaging with rappers like Pusha T on solutions.
“I can’t fault her for things she did ten years ago but I can applaud her for things she’s doing now,” Civil, who hosted several rallies for Clinton, said.
Lizzo, who prefers Clinton “a million times” over Trump, expressed more cynicism in the political system.
“The country was already racist no matter who’s going to be the head of it,” she said. “… Really, it’s just like choosing which mouthpiece would you rather hear this policy that’s already taking place.”
Pandering vs. reaching out
From being accused of pandering after telling “The Breakfast Club” that she always carries hot sauce in her purse (something Clinton has been known for over the years), to mispronouncing Beyoncé’s name, Clinton’s efforts to reach out to the hip-hop community have sometimes backfired.
He confronted her for mispronouncing Beyoncé’s name, criticized a tweet in which she wished African Americans “Happy Kwanza” and joked about the time she dabbed to “Trap Queen” on “Ellen.”
“The planet is collapsing, economies are crashin’, and Hillary Clinton is dabbin’,” Chris Webby raps in the 2016 song, “Dapiff (Freeverse Series Episode 4).”
Meanwhile, Rich the Kid raps, “Hillary hit the dab, Ima vote,” in the 2016 song, “Rich the GOAT.”
“One of my cautionary tales to Hillary Clinton was please do not pander,” Sellers, who was instrumental in making “The Breakfast Club” interview happen says, “Because your history with the African American community is what we want to build on.”
Lizzo said that doing the “whip and the nae nae to appeal to a demographic sort of feels condescending,” but even if Clinton’s efforts are “for vanity’s sake,” they are better than Trump’s lack of initiative.
Bill Clinton boost expires, Obama boost kicks in
A previous analysis of songs that came out prior to Clinton’s presidential run, found that some of the most positive references to the Democratic nominee are ones in which she is tied to her husband.
Bill Clinton became known as America’s first black president, based in part on a Toni Morrison essay and his cultural connections with African Americans.
Civil said that for some older black voters, like her father, the Bill Clinton boost is still in effect. But in the age of “Black Lives Matter,” younger voters don’t share that same nostalgia for the 90s, they don’t remember Clinton playing the saxophone on Arsenio Hall and to them, he was never the “first black president.”
“Obama shattered that whole thing about Bill Clinton being that first black president,” Dibinga said. “I think Bill Clinton’s time has passed.”
In Atmosphere’s 2016 song, “When the Lights Go Out,” Slug raps: “By the time you hear the song I’ll be signing it from down at the county jail, still filled to the maximum, so F*** bill Clinton with his saxophone.”
But as the Bill Clinton boost expires for America’s youth, the Clinton campaign has leaned on President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who is arguably Clinton’s most effective surrogate, repeatedly to campaign for the Democratic nominee in key battleground states.
In a fiery September speech delivered at his final Congressional Black Caucus dinner as President, Obama told black voters that he would consider it a “personal insult” to his legacy if they don’t vote for Clinton.
Civil, who said she is often asked why she avidly backs Clinton, cited her love for the Obamas.
“Nobody can ever be Barack Obama. Barack Obama was our first black president,” she said, but added that “(Clinton) is going to continue on the legacy that Obama started.”