14 May 2016
I’ve been listening to gansta rap lately. Inspired by the movie Straight Outta Compton, which is about the pioneer rap group N.W.A (Niggers With Attitude for those who don’t know).
Those Dr Dre beats are irresistible, but what I’ve been relating to is the anger, the humour, and the honesty. Some of it isn’t pretty, there’s certainly misogyny and crude expressions of hate, but the best tracks speak to the reality of being black in America’s urban wastelands.
This musical exploration has led me to make a surprising comparison, to the guy with the funny hairdo who’s about to contest the election for the next president of the United States.
It dawned on me… Donald Trump is a rich white gansta rapper. He says whatever’s on his mind, some of it ugly, some of it just to get a reaction. On many issues he’s obviously ignorant, which he doesn’t care, further endearing himself to some of his similarly ignorant supporters. But he’s tapped into something that relates to what I was saying about gansta rap (or “reality rap” as some early practitioners preferred). The thing that Trump has been consistently saying is that America is in a shit of a mess. “Things are really, really bad out there”, he’s said.
Wages are low, good jobs are hard to come by, student debt is crippling a generation, basic healthcare is inaccessible to many, education is falling apart, along with roads and other public infrastructure. 80% of Americans are experiencing a decline in their living standards. Bill Clinton, Bush (senior and junior), Obama, and the other political careerists in Congress, have done little to change this reality. They’ve happily submitted to the wishes of big banks and the rest of the financial class on Wall Street.
The brewing resentment and general hatred of politicians is working in Trump’s favour. He has gained traction with Republican voters who are sick of slick PR groomed politicians mouthing platitudes and vacuous slogans. He’s also given voice to a dangerous version of that anger that wants to find targets to blame, whether it’s Mexicans “stealing jobs” or out-of-touch liberals, the type that Hillary Clinton represents.
On the other side of the political divide, an “old socialist”, Bernie Sanders, has been pushing Clinton hard for the Democratic nomination. He’s connecting with the stirring amongst young people in particular for something radically different, which Obama has failed to offer. Obama’s main message as president has been “play by the rules” and you’ll have your shot at the American Dream. While presenting a charming face, the Obama administration has tried to stifle the long tradition of black protest movements. He has endorsed policies which have locked millions in jail for minor offences and then stripped them of their human rights when released.
The cover of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s hit album, To Pimp a Butterfly, has a crowd of shirtless black men and children in front of the White House holding fistfuls of dollars. A white judge lies prone on the ground. It’s a satirical image. Life for the majority of black Americans hasn’t changed with the election of an African-American president, if anything it’s got worse.
And things won’t change for the better if Trump reaches the White House, but this election season in America might be showing that people have had enough of bland “no alternative” politics. The scarier side of the equation has surfaced with Trump, but maybe there’s hope for leadership and a grassroots movement that properly shakes the foundations of America’s unjust political system.