The raptastic radio spot is yet another example of the Republican Party fundamentally misunderstanding its relationship with hip-hop.
Earlier today, Ben Carson released a radio ad for his campaign that features rapping. Over a beat that sounds like a g-funk GarageBand preset, a rapper named Aspiring Mogul dropped lyrics that only a true Republican could construe as rapping:
"Vote! / Inspire! / Vote! / Revive! / Ben Carson 2016 / Vote and support Ben Carrrrrrson / to be our next president it'll be awwwwwesome! / If you wanna get America back on track / We gotta vote Carson, matter of fact!"
The ad, which will appear on the radio in cities with large black populations such as Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, and Memphis, quickly drew criticism, both for the quality of rapping (low), as well as the balls-out cynicism—or cluelessness—it must have taken for the Carson campaign to refer to black people as "a non-traditional voting market for Republicans" who "we feel pretty strongly is ready and prepared to start working for Ben Carson" and is best reached through hip-hop, "a level they appreciate and follow."
In so many words, Carson's campaign manager Doug Watts is saying, "We want black people, who we know to enjoy rap music, to vote for Ben Carson, so if we make a campaign ad that's a rap song, black people will realize they should vote for Ben Carson."
But while Carson's white campaign manager seems perfectly happy to court the black vote through the medium of hip-hop, it doesn't seem the candidate actually respects it all that much. In an April interview with a New York R&B radio station, Carson defined hip-hop as "the aspect of modern society that pretty much dismisses anything that has to do with Jesus Christ" and claimed it was destroying the black community's faith and family values.
Aspiring Mogul—the rapper whom the Carson campaign has saddled with their hopes and fears and dreams—is an openly Republican youth minister and "race relations expert" from Savannah, Georgia. The only other song of his I could find, "The Black Republican," is also about how much Aspiring Mogul likes Ben Carson. I'm embedding it below, but only so you can look at its amazing artwork.
Between unintentionally hilarious lines like "The devil tryna kill me / But I'm pro-life, don't believe in abortion," Aspiring Mogul does manage to hit upon an essential fact about hip-hop, and that's that hip-hop as a genre is fundamentally opposed to the Republican Party.
By now, the causes of this relationship are myriad, but it largely begins with Ronald Reagan, who's popularly credited with facilitating the introduction of crack-cocaine to the hood. Think Kanye West's couplet, "How do we stop the Black Panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer," from the 2005 track "Crack Music." Or when Chuck D of Public Enemy told CNN, "Since Reagan and Bush, there's been nothing but drugs and guns in the black community."
As the years have passed and Republicans have increasingly become the de facto party of rich, old white dudes, hip-hop has reacted accordingly and started mocking the shit out of them. Consider Mac Dre's 2004 album Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics, whose cover found the late hyphy pioneer wearing comically mismatched plaid and standing in front of an American flag and a pastoral home. The title track's chorus features Dre rapping in an intentionally refined cadence, "It's only civilized for us to live our lives / Royal, spoiled, the American way! Dreganomics!"
Even more referenced than Reagan is Donald Trump, whose name in hip-hop has served as shorthand as the logical conclusion of capitalism as we know it. Raekwon referred to himself as "The black Trump" on "Incarcerated Scarfaces" from his 1995 album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., which found the Wu-Tang MC reimagining himself as a cocaine kingpin. In 1998, Bay Area hero E-40 put it more bluntly in "Trump Change," in which he rapped about having "Trump change, not chump change."
More recently, Mac Miller's 2011 single "Donald Trump" got over a hundred million hits on YouTube and promised to, "Take over the world when I'm on my Donald Trump shit." In 2013, Trump called Miller an "ungrateful dog" on Twitter and threatened, "I'm now going to teach you a big boy lesson about lawsuits and finance." (The pair have since made up.)
Then there's Rae Sremmurd's jubilant "Up Like Trump," whose video features a dude doing trap arms while wearing a Trump mask and which includes the lyric "FORBESLISTFORBESLISTFORBESLIST!" And the Young Thug track "Donald Trump," whose hook finds Thugger rapping, "Donald Trump, I made Forbes list this month." I could keep talking about how much rappers like talking about Donald Trump, but if I did I would never finish writing this article.
In the rare instances that hip-hop has intentionally aligned itself with the Republican Party, it's always felt like a bit of an elaborate irony play. Eazy E of N.W.A. once attended a White House luncheon during the first George Bush administration, but according to the group's then-manager Jerry Heller, Eazy only went because it seemed like the most outrageous thing he could have done that day (and even if Eazy had been a card-carrying Republican, he still showed up to the luncheon stoned, according to Heller). In 2005, 50 Cent reportedly said, "I wanna meet George (W.) Bush, just shake his hand and tell him how much of me I see in him." But given that mid-2000s Fiddy relished his status as rap's arch supervillain (not to mention his 2012 endorsement of Barack Obama), he might have meant the remark as an insult.
Then there's Jay Z and Nas's "Black Republican," in which the onetime New York rivals quashed their beef over a beat that sampled "Marcia Religiosa," which was composed by Francis Ford Coppola's father Carmine Coppola and originally appeared on the soundtrack to The Godfather Part III. Even before the two rappers spit a single bar, the implication is clear: In hip-hop, being a Republican is the same thing as being an actual gangster who kills people.
One of the few times a rapper seems to have wholeheartedly supported a Republican is in Baltimore rapper King Los's 2010 track "Next Black President," in which the erstwhile Bad Boy affiliate rapped, "Verbally I'm Ben Carson / Y'all duplicate the wheel, I reinvent awesome." Given its title (and the presence of the same "Carson/awesome" rhyme formulation employed by Aspiring Mogul), it's kind of shocking to realize the song came out in 2010.
The GOP, meanwhile, seems to view hip-hop as a curio, a talking point to hit when trying to establish some much-needed credibility with "non-traditional Republican voters." In 2013, Stan Veuger, a blogger for the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article trying to reframe gangster rap tropes as extensions of conservative ideals. Needless to say, Veuger's goober-y claims—like saying Em and Dre's "Guilty Conscience" was a "morality play"—didn't go over well among humans with brains and ears.
Meanwhile, whenever Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubiowants to adjust the settings on his human suit to "young and hip," he tends to invoke hip-hop. When a GQ interviewer asked the Florida Senator to name his favorite Afrika Bambaataa track, he froze. Rather than name, say, "Planet Rock" or "Renegades of Funk," Rubio answered, "All the normal ones." He also offered such cutting commentary on hip-hop culture as, "You know, many people say Nicki Minaj is a rapper, but she's also a singer," and "There's no message for [Pitbull], compared to like an Eminem." This summer on Fox News, Rubio declared his allegiance to the Wu-Tang Clan, only to be unable to name a single member (I don't think Raekwon would mind, really, as we've already established he's on Team Trump).
It's a testament to the total cluelessness of the GOP that its politicians have misinterpreted hip-hop's simultaneous distrust and ironic appropriation of their party as nuggets of support, and somehow decided that they can cultivate that support simply by establishing that they are aware that hip-hop is a thing that people seem to like.
Even still, maybe Carson's strategy will work. Kanye West has gone on record as saying, "As soon as I heard Carson speak, I tried for three weeks to get on the phone with him. I was like, 'This is the most brilliant guy.'"
Then again, Yeezy might just be doing research for his own campaign.
Follow Drew on Twitter.