President Donald Trump has attacked nearly every major institution in the country: Democrats, Republicans, pop culture, the media, sports. One area that has remained unscathed, for now anyways, is the music industry. Numerous artists, most notably Eminem (we will talk about him later), have opposed Trump with the venom and animosity that many other media personalities have. To this point, Trump has yet to make a public rebuttal (to his credit, there are more pressing issues in world than what a musician thinks of him). Hip-Hop is a unique space, and carries with it a higher level of responsibility, much more than other genres of music. Gene Simmons of KISS is pro-Trump, so is Ted Nugent, and no outrage from the Rockers-and-Rollers of the USA.
Hip-Hop stars were once considered the “voice of the voiceless”: being the spokespeople of the oppressed population, telling stories of the impoverished ghettos of America, calling into question the systems and institutions that has caused their people great harm, spitting inspirational bars of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The perception of Donald Trump among many of Hip-Hop’s faithful is one of oppression, racism, divisiveness, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath and pride: everything Hip-Hop is supposed to speak out against. A Hip-Hop artist publicly supporting someone, who is brazenly against all of Hip-Hop’s core beliefs, would certainly derail their career, wouldn’t it? A pro-Trump Hip-Hop artist would feel the fury and the fire of a scorned fanbase and fade into obscurity? History tells us otherwise.
In 2005, 50 Cent, who was enjoying the success of his sophomore effort The Massacre, told GQ Magazine he would’ve voted for the second Bush, who still maintains a nuclear reputation in the Hip-Hop community, had his prior felony conviction not kept him from the voting booth. At the time, his remarks were a mere blip on the radar, as his hits singles continued to dominate the Billboard charts. Fiddy’s verbal jabs aimed at enemy New York rappers Ja Rule, Fat Joe and Jadakiss grabbed more headlines. 50’s career downward spiral had many other factors involved, not the George Bush endorsement. (He would later rescind his support of Bush because of his handling of the war in Iraq.)
In 2012, Nicki Minaj endorsed an opponent of then-President Barack Obama, who is revered by Hip-Hop artists and fans alike. She rapped on Lil’ Wayne’s Dedication 4 mixtape, "I'm a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy b*****s is f*****g up the economy". As Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded went on to sell over 2 million copies that year, she faced little pushback. In fact, many fans just wrote it off as her trying to create a clever punchline. 2012 was a very controversial year for Nicki, (the Hot97 Summer Jam fiasco with Peter Rosenberg, her exorcism on the Grammy stage, having her “Stupid Hoe” video banned from BET, the beef with Mariah Carey on American Idol), and the Romney endorsement did not register on people’s radar. It was erased from people’s consciousness as her music propelled her into superstardom.
Recently, there have been artists who have given their support of Donald Trump. Azealia Banks did, on Instagram in November 2016, when Trump added President-elect to his title:
“First off, I would like to apologize to Donald Trump for all the stupid jokes I made. (I was kidding). secondly, I would like to apologize for all the other times I was dumb enough to let the liberal media sway my opinion of you. Thirdly I’m fucking proud as FUCK of you. One for being a gemini, two for being from NYC, three for winning the presidency and four for beating the media. The last part is your biggest victory in my eyes and I must say that I am TRULY inspired by this and feel deep amounts of vindication. Thanks for letting me know that I’m not crazy (even though I fronted a few times) liberals run hollywood and it’s been a COLD WORLD OUT HERE FOR ME AS A TRUMP SUPPORTER 😹. Best of luck on everything and thanks again. Sincerely - AB #TRUMP2017”
However, by that time, the once promising career of Azealia had all but evaporated, leading many to believe that it was a publicity stunt.
Kanye West initially supported Trump, only to walk back his approval weeks later. Rick Ross, in his song “Apple of My Eye”, rapped, “I’m happy Donald Trump became president/Because we gotta destroy, before we elevate.” The careful wording of this line led many to believe that this was a backhanded compliment. In other words, if he is a Trump supporter, he gave himself an out.
But what if a prominent rapper was unapologetic in his support of Trump, didn’t backtrack, didn’t tweet and delete, and it wasn’t a publicity stunt? They genuinely believed in our President and did not take issue with his off-the-cuff tirades. Would that end their Hip-Hop career?
This brings us back to Eminem. His Trump-bashing freestyle has angered some of his Trump-supporting fans. He angered people in 2004 with his song “Mosh”, an angry 5:45 allegory towards President George W. Bush. He has angered the LGBT community numerous times throughout the years. He has angered mothers, his mother, his wife, his daughter, teachers, students, religious leaders, singers, rappers, athletes. In fact, Eminem has become quite good at pissing people off. And he still remains the second best-selling male artist in the Soundscan era. So what is his secret to avoiding prolonged outrage?
In the case of Eminem, 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj, the answer lies in a two-decade old idiom by Bill Gates (which has been repeated so many times it has lost some of its meaning, but it still holds some truth). In a 1996 essay, Gates wrote, “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting”. The title of this essay was “Content Is King”. Judging by his record sales, YouTube numbers, or whatever other metric one wants to use as a gauge, Eminem’s content dons the crown and scepter over nearly all of his contemporaries. As long as that remains to be the case, he can push through the initial wave of backlash.
Marshall Mathers is an extreme example. He is an outlier of the outlier. Most artists could not get away with screaming “F**k You!” to their fans, but the same concept can be put into play here. Rick Ross has made some very questionable decisions in regards to his lyrics, yet he remains one of Hip-Hop’s elites. If a Trump-supporting rapper can consistently make great music, they, too, can withstand any potential backlash. It would have to be a strategic effort. Every word in every interview, calculated. Every tweet, every Instagram post, made with precise timing. Every song released must be of great quality and care. Over time, all of the press (even the negative) would start to work in the artist’s favor. Fans, more so than in previous decades, have shown the ability to compartmentalize. Chris Brown is still wildly popular, despite the numerous controversies during his tenure.
In the world of music, but even more so Hip-Hop, the content is what will get an artist over with the fans, not politics. History is always kinder to those who write it themselves.
Photo from Billboard.com