What does Barack Obama‘s presidency mean for pop culture? That depends on whom you ask. For our new “Celebrity In Chief” feature, I was assigned to find out if Obama’s election might have any sort of impact on hip-hop or other music. Rapper Talib Kweli was one the first people I reached out to for comment. He had a lot to say, but we only had room for a couple of his quotes in the story. Still, the transcript of our interview was too interesting to let it go to waste. Herewith, the best of the rest.
MARGEAUX’S MIX: Do you think that Obama’s election will have an impact on rap music?
TALIB KWELI: Obama’s presence in politics in general has had a huge impact on all types of music. But [his campaign] had the power to bring in the black musicians, the hip-hop musicians, and the cutting edge musicians who are not like Bruce Springsteen and those other old men who pay taxes, have mortgages, and stuff like that. Common is from Chicago and he was on it real early just because of the impact [Obama] had in the community. Young Jeezy had been slowly talking more about Obama all year, but around the time his new album [The Recession] dropped last summer, he created a song called “My President” with Nas before Obama even won the election. In the song, Jeezy says, “[Obama’s] my president whether he wins or not.” So it’s not about him winning the election; it’s about the man that he is.
Moving forward, what do you anticipate will be the result of his impact?
I was talking to [producer/DJ] Hi-Tekabout this yesterday and I agree with what he said. He was talkingabout how when black people get into an industry or a field that we’vebeen left out of, we end up dominating and excelling because we’ve hadto work so much harder to get to that position, whether it’s Serena Williams or Tiger Woodsor whatever. And now Barack Obama has a chance to do that for politics.I think he’ll be able to bring something to presidential politics thatwe’ve never seen.
Do you think Obama’s popularity in the hip-hop community will inspire certain rappers to change their tune?
Whenyou see an artist who represents so much negative space in terms ofwhat he’s talking about, like Young Jeezy, somebody who I reallyrespect but let’s face it, he came into the [music] business talkingabout selling cocaine and advertising it. That was his s—. And forhis platform to now be about Barack Obama speaks volumes. He’s stilltalking about his daddy was in jail and the scale — he’s making thereferences that he feels like he needs to make for the hood — butobviously Barack is his inspiration right now. On a different note, onmy website, a kid wrote this long essay about now that we have a blackpresident, what are rappers like myself and Mos Def gonna rap about being that black people have nothing to complain about no more.
Does the fact that a black man has become the most powerful guyin the world change anything for rap stars, especially those who arguethat hip-hop comes out of a response to being powerless in the face ofa racist system?
I gotta go back to something that Hi-Tek saidlast night. We were talking about how Obama ran his campaign and Hi-Tekwas like, “He’s so smart that I’m looking at people like you and MosDef and Jay-Zand other lyricists I respect, and I’m like, Damn, these n—– gottalook up to this dude now! That’s the new role model. If you’re lookingat somebody who’s smart, you’re used to looking at your favorite MCs,but now you’re looking at this dude.”
Do you think that Obama represents a different kind of model foryoung black men? If so, what impact will that have if some of themodeling moves away from rap stars and more towards Obama?
Yeah,at least for this moment, the narrative has changed from it’s eitherrap, the trap or basketball to it’s rap, the trap, basketball or youcould be the president too. He’s inspired black men to send out massemails to other black men, saying, “We gotta stop saying ‘n—-‘ somuch. We gotta take care of our families. We gotta raise our babies.”