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Barack Obama and the Power of Hip Hop As “Social Commentary”

Former U.S. President Barack Obama gesture as he attends the "values-based leadership" during a plenary session of the Gathering of Rising Leaders in the Asia Pacific, organized by the Obama Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Apparently everyone is up in arms about President Obama’s appearance on Complex’s “360 with Speedy Morman”. During the hour long interview, the former President shared some candid thoughts about hip hop and the lifestyle it impresses on the culture.

It’s “all about the bling, the women, the money,” Obama shared. He began to shed light on the violence, materialism, and sexualized lyrical nature of a fair amount of the hip hop industry. For the record, it’s a true assessment of the industry.

As expected, Obama got a few side-eyes for his comments because sometimes the truth does that.

“You’re speaking to a president who brought Common, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole into the White House, whose every playlist has Hip Hop,” he said to Morman. “So, I am the first to recognize the power of Hip Hop, not just as music, but as social commentary. I am a huge fan of all kinds of rappers, and many of them are my friends. So, what is true through, and I think, you know, every time I make a statement like this, I get pushed back, and I’m like, ‘Come on y’all, what, you’re not listening to these lyrics? You’re not watching to these videos?’

“There are many, many, even among rappers I love, attitudes with respect to women or material belongings that reinforce the sense that the measure of the man is how much stuff he’s got and sexual conquest. And that is not a controversial statement, that is a true statement.”

Power of Music

While the lyrics entertain, they are still powerful to our psyche. Lyrics are the parts of music that our brains digest in the background while we dance to the rhythm. As the German poet Heinrich Heine shared, “Where words leave off, music begins.”

I feel a sense of guilt as I play certain songs on the radio and it’s feeling that I can’t explain. Most times, I just hope that people are able to separate certain lyrics and opt not to attach themselves to them. It really grinds my gears to hear Pop radio and other genres for other cultures, only to hear that their “popular music” is more uplifting and inspiring than derogatory.

The songs we hear daily become the songs we sing daily. Lyrics, like affirmations, are words. There are some songs that I’d certainly rather not affirm the lyrics on my life.

But, art.

It’d be naive to subscribe to the idea that all music should be positive. I’m in no way an authority whose able to police art.

But none of us should.

I hate that President Obama gets “heat” for speaking his mind about derogatory lyrics. If they don’t bother you, that’s fine. Don’t get upset at someone for saying that they do, especially if he’s got receipts.

What are your thoughts on it?