Monday night, Kendrick Lamar was set to perform at the halftime show of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Georgia and Alabama and President Donald Trump was expected to be in attendance. The discourse surrounding the game was on everyone’s mind: as polarizing as their energies are, how would the two interact with other? But, that confrontation never happened. Not only did Donald Trump leave before halftime, Kendrick Lamar didn’t actually perform inside the stadium, but across the street at Centennial Olympic Park rapping “ELEMENT.,” “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.,” and “All the Stars”.
Kendrick has dedicated his music to crafting a soundtrack of blackness: an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, a performance that sparked dialogue about mass incarceration, and an album cover that brought a piece of Compton to the front lawn of the White House. President Trump, on the other hand, has quite the track record: he made up the ‘alt-left’ after the death of a Charlottesville protester, signed an executive order banning seven Muslim-majority countries, and is doing whatever he can to dismantle Obamacare. He’s built his legacy on being American. Not the Americana that involves apple pie and milkshake floats, but the ugly kind. The kind of America hid in history books and used to erect statues of oppressors cloaked as heroes. Another piece of American culture, one slightly less unattractive and not quite as sweet as pie is football.
We’ve watched Trump call NFL players “sons of bitches” for silently protesting police brutality by taking a knee. So is it by chance that Kendrick didn’t perform in the same venue as the sitting president? No. In an era where Colin Kaepernick has become unmarketable to the NFL for his integration of politics and sports, Kendrick and Trump are emblematic of the conversation no one is having together but pretends to speak fluently. Like Monday night, we’re just missing each other; showing up at the same events and missing an opportunity to address issues of race in a meaningful way.
Kendrick’s relationship with presidents, both former and current, has been well documented. In 2015, President Obama named To Pimp a Butterfly’s “How Much a Dollar Cost” as one of his favorite songs of the year, and even ranked him in his top five the following year. The relationship the two had was endearing, and Kendrick even challenged him to a friendly game of basketball in Compton, but not before throwing some salt on his game. An invitation to the White House for Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and Malia’s 18th birthday was a testament to bond the two were able to forge, a camaraderie with the White House that had never been extended to hip-hop. Lamar spoke out about what he thought of Trump occupying the seat in the Oval Office. “The key differences [between Obama and Trump] are morals, dignity, principles, common sense,” he says in an interview with i-d. “How do you follow someone who doesn’t know how to approach someone or speak to them kindly and with compassion and sensitivity?”
The world transitioned from one form of leadership to another when Trump became president. His candidacy alone was marked by hate crimes across the south in cities like Charleston and Charlottesville. It wasn’t the same energy Obama’s Hope campaign had inspired ten years ago. It was anything but the “post-racial” society many thought would commence after the tenure of the first black president ended. Middle America and the South became apart of “Trump Country,” not only home base of his core supporters, but also Georgia and Alabama, the two schools in this championship game. Trump’s decision to attend the game, the first of his presidency, of two states that traditionally skew right isn’t surprising. But, with the championship being hosted in Atlanta, a city where over half of its population is black, including newly elected Mayor Keisha Bottoms, the racial dynamics were pretty obvious.
Donald Trump has been vocal about just about everything, including the socioeconomics of Atlanta. A year ago, the OG Twitter Fingers expressed his views about civil rights veteran, John Lewis’s leadership throughout the city: “Congressman Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than complaining about the election results.” Politicians have made careers out of perpetuating narratives like the War on Drugs, surrounding minorities and crime through coded language (See: Nixon, Reagan and like, 41 other presidents) and their jargon is rarely accidental. “Crime infested” in a city where almost 60 percent of people are minorities? That’s an original take. Monday night, like many other times in American history, blackness was celebrated on a field, with both teams comprised of predominantly black players.
Kendrick’s performance may have been the first highly anticipated event of the year. It had me, someone who is completely uninterested in sports, watching a football game for two hours. It wasn’t about the game, but what Kendrick performing at a football game in 2018 meant. His art has been immaculately curated, deliberate, and impactful in its message of surveying the best and worst parts of black culture. I was hoping for a moment. Something as small as a Trump name drop or as epic as him singing “Alright” on top of a cop car. If there was anyone who could pull this off, it would be Kendrick Lamar. Since last January, America seems to have been waiting for someone to say something, anyone with enough courage to call the president out on the world’s stage. Part of me feels a little naive for expecting Kendrick’s performance to rip off the bandaid of the wound that this administration has left after the Obama-era. His job as an entertainer shouldn’t be burdened by doing the heavy lifting, because after all, he’s navigating the world just like the rest of us. Over the years, Kendrick had become a voice of the voiceless. Monday night we were hoping for that voice because in the past year, we’ve all become a little hoarse.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.