During the recent election, many hip-hop fans were disappointed to find that some of the genre’s biggest stars chose to support Donald Trump in spite of his policies. Lil Wayne, Lil Pump, and more posted to social media openly professing their preference for Trump over his opposition Joe Biden, while others like 50 Cent joked that they liked Trump’s tax policy more than Biden’s. In a recent interview with The Atlantic, former president Barack Obama tries to explain why Trump’s presentation tended to resonate with this particular demographic.
“I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money,” he says. “A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated. That insinuates itself and seeps into the culture.”
Indeed, there’s a lot of rap music that is explicitly about the topics mentioned above (and just as much that isn’t), while even some of the most progressive-minded minded rappers across the genre’s 40-year history have engaged at least a few of these tropes in their efforts to make their music and videos palatable to the widest variety of fans. Rappers in the 90s and 2000s often name-checked Trump to associate themselves with the perception of wealth and those constant cameos were a driving force in Kanye West’s 2016 decision to meet with Trump despite the then candidate’s divisive rhetoric. In Obama’s mind, this is symptomatic of growing materialism in the broader American culture, which makes someone like Trump seem more attractive than they really are.
“America has always had a caste system — rich and poor, not just racially but economically — but it wasn’t in your face most of the time when I was growing up,” he explains. “Then you start seeing Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, that sense that either you’ve got it or you’re a loser. And Donald Trump epitomizes that cultural movement that is deeply ingrained now in American culture.”
He does point out his optimistic view of the future, however, expressing his hope in a younger generation who values different standards for success. “When you look at the younger generation, Malia and Sasha’s generation, you see that more clearly,” he adds. “It’s more often articulated, what they want out of life. They’re much less likely to have a need to be on Wall Street by such-and-such date. That is not how they seem to be defining themselves quite as much. That makes me more optimistic.”