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From Bob Dylan to Public Enemy to Rage Against the Machine, music artists using their lyrics for political commentary is nothing new. One genre that has always paid particularly close attention to the political landscape is hip hop. While a great deal of the political content was often harsh criticism of the oval office many artists would commonly use their music to speak about their dreams for themselves and one day being able to make meaning political impact on behalf of all marginalized people.
In 2008, those aspirations became a reality when we as a people made a statement by electing our first African American president, President Barack Obama. Fast forward eight polarizing years, and President Obama’s farewell address marked ten days until the inauguration of the President Elect. Despite the drastic overcompensation to the right, now more than ever is a time to reflect on the progressive voices that we have and honor those that use them. With that, we have decided to celebrate the Don Dada, Barack Obama, and savor his legacy with some of the most memorable hip hop executive orders.

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“The dream of Huey Newton, that’s what I’m livin’ through
The dream of Eric Wright, that’s what I’m givin you
Who walked through the White House without a business suit
Compton hat, jheri curl drippin on Ronald Reagan’s shoes”
 -The Game, Dreams, The Documentary
Even with opposing views and heightened racial tension in our country, one subject that knows no color is the socioeconomic struggle of those living at, and below the poverty line. In 1991, after making a $2,500 donation toward the Bush campaign in support of his anti censorship stance, Eric “Eazy E” Wright was invited to the White House to attend a lunch banquet with none other than George Bush Senior. For the face of “Ganster Rap” to be cordially invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in an era where censorship was on the federal agenda, is clear proof that in the eyes of government green trumps all.

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“And the only time we chill is when we kill each other
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other
And although it seems heaven-sent
We ain’t ready to see a black president”
-2Pac, Changes, Greatest Hits
Based on the social conditions in southern California in the early 90s, when Pac said this it was definitely the result of anger and frustration due to the circumstances of his people and their communities. However, in the very same breathe, he was also setting a standard that up until 2008, many never even thought possible. Rather than dismissing an African American president as a pipe dream, 2Pac communicated the injustice and lack of political representation for all African Americans. One person that has made an attempt to preserve his legacy while creating his own is Kendrick Lamar. Aside from his message and rhyme style, K Dot’s presence in the White House during the Obama administration really made 2Pac’s cipher complete.

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“I keep falling, but never falling six feet deep
I’m out for presidents to represent me (say what?)
I’m out for presidents to represent me (say what?)
I’m out for dead presidents to represent me”
-Nas, The World Is Yours, Illmatic
There is no denying God’s Son’s body of work runs deep, but this is unanimously one of the hottest, most well recited lines off Illmatic. So much so that Jay Z famously sampled this Pete Rock produced classic and created the classic track ‘Dead Presidents’, on Reasonable Doubt . The obsession with greenbacks has long been associated with hip hop, but when you look past the lust for riches, the transition Nas makes in four lines speaks volumes. He literally goes from a hopeful citizen of the republic that is striving to maximize the power of representation, to a voice of frustration that is wiling to settle for cash. Capturing every angle of his perspective using his words is something Nas has always done in his rhymes, and he continues to do it until this day. 

 
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“Tell him: “I’m doing fine”. Obama for mankind
We ready for damn change so y’all let the man shine
Stuntin’ on Martin Luther, feeling just like a king
Guess this is what he meant when he said that he had a dream”
-Young Jeezy, My President, The Recession
From the standpoint of hip hop, the mention of political successes are few and far between. That is why Jeezy’s ode to the Obama presidency quickly became an anthem. Despite the heavy subject matter throughout the track, tackling everything from Bush’s controversial win in Florida, to the harsh realities of incarceration, The Snowman still keeps the tone overwhelmingly positive. While our current presidential trajectory suggests otherwise, for a short while from 2008 – 2016 we as a nation got to see what judging some one by the content of their character really looked like.

 

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