In his first presidential campaign and the earliest days of his presidency, Obama was largely depicted as a cool countercultural figure. An inspiration for Black folks. This symbolism never completely disappeared from hip-hop songs.
But as he accumulated years in the White House, Obama took on more meanings to hip-hop artists — specifically, he became a symbol of power. For example, some artists noted their associations (or pretend associations) with Obama to suggest they were well connected and well respected, whereas others referenced him as an overly powerful symbol of American imperialism.
For “Hip-Hop Is Universal,” The ReidOut’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, check out some of the most memorable bars about Obama.
Common, “The People” (2007)
From Englewood to a single ’hood in Botswana
I see the I in we, my n---a, yours is my drama
Standing in front of the judge with no honor
My raps ignite the people like Obama
I don’t know if there’s a hip-hop artist who was more celebrated by the Obama administration than Common. And for good reason — the man is a very skilled lyricist. Read this inspirational line, and keep in mind that this is the guy Republicans tried to portray as a menacing “gangster rapper.”
Young Jeezy, “My President” (2008)
My president is Black, my Lambo’s blue
And I’ll be godd---ed if my rims ain’t too
This is probably the most well-known hip-hop song about Obama ever made.
Kanye West, “Power” (2010)
Colin Powells, Austin Powers
Lost in translation with a whole f---in’ nation
They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation
Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation
That’s Kanye reflecting on the ire he received in the years preceding 2010, largely over the Taylor Swift incident. Remember that Obama was recorded on a hot mic criticizing West for the incident.
Big Boi, “Daddy Fat Sax” (2010)
And who you votin’ for, Republican or Democrat?
Don’t say it doesn’t matter ’cause that’s how they stole the last one
Assassin’s bullet might be waitin’ for Obama
Do you think they’ll have a brother before Billy’s baby mama? C’mon!
This line channels the concerns many Black people had before Obama’s election that he might not survive even if he were elected. And it speaks to the disbelief many Black people had that Obama would ultimately get voters to side with him over Clinton. But we all know how that story played out.
Lupe Fiasco, “Words I Never Said” (2011)
Limbaugh was a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist
Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say s---
That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either
Lupe Fiasco was a vocal opponent of Obama throughout most of his presidency. Shortly after dropping this song in 2011, the artist garnered criticism for saying Obama’s foreign policies made him “the biggest terrorist.”
Pusha T, “Trouble on My Mind” (2011)
Started in the crack house, Obama went the back route
Kill bin Laden, ’nother four up in the Black House
Pusha T is known for these kinds of lines speaking pridefully of Obama while contrasting his life path with the former president’s. He does it on Freddie Gibbs’ song “Palmolive,” as well.
Jay-Z, “Open Letter” (2013)
Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free
Except I made millions off it, you f---in’ dweeb
I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seats
Y’all buy that bulls---, y’all better keep y’all receipts
Obama said, “Chill, you gonna get me impeached”
You don’t need this s--- anyway, chill with me on the beach
Here, we see an example of an artist depicting proximity to Obama as a status symbol. Jay-Z’s basically saying, “Me and the president are cool, and we speak casually.” Power move, even if it’s an exaggeration. We know Obama is a Jay-Z supporter.
Kendrick Lamar, “Humble” (2017)
This s--- way too crazy, ayy, you do not amaze me, ayy
I blew cool from AC, ayy, Obama just paged me, ayy
This reference is similar to Jay-Z’s. Obama is the ultimate name drop.
Rick Ross, “Idols Become Rivals” (2017)
Cigars in the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan
Hug Barack Obama, whisper “As-salamu alaikum”
Another line here in which an artist purports to have an extremely comfortable relationship with the president. A claim to boss status from Rick Ross, the self-proclaimed “biggest boss.”
Noname, “Song 32” (2019)
Y’all n----s got Diddy money, don’t push me, I’m atom bomb
I’m Obama pushing the button, in Libya, Pakistan
Humanly a hypocrite, the sinner and the civilian
The pettiest that it gets, I’m America at its best
This is another example of some of the cutting criticism toward Obama. I think this epitomizes the Black progressive critique of him after his presidency.
This post is part of MSNBC’s “Hip-Hop Is Universal” series, which celebrates the genre’s 50th anniversary and examines its future.