Rapper Ludacris has recorded his “Get out the vote” song: “Politics as Usual.” The refrain of the catchy paean to the Democratic presidential hopeful is, “Obama is here!”
If one searches for coherence, grammatical accuracy and lofty thinking in the lyrics of this song, then one would emerge empty-handed from the throes of its beat. But the purpose of the song is clearly not to exalt listeners to a higher plane of reflection. It was recorded to showcase Ludacris, to endorse Obama, to excoriate Obama’s rivals and to get out the black vote.
Crazy as this sounds, I have listened to “Politics as Usual” at least 10 times. I had to strain hard to catch all the words to this thrumming creation because Ludacris tends, at times, to enunciate some of his poetry poorly, as though he himself is suffocated by its lewdness. The song moves from Ludacris to Sen. Hillary Clinton, from Clinton to Jesse Jackson, from Jackson to Republican candidate John McCain, from McCain to President Bush and finally to Obama in what may be called “stream of consciousness” by those favorably disposed toward Ludacris and “loose association” by those who cannot stand him.
Obama during one of his weaker moments gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine mentioning Bruce Springsteen, Yo Yo Ma, Ludacris and Jay-Z as musicians who occupy space in his iPod. Obama also made the terrible mistake of calling Ludacris a talented artist and a good businessman. Apparently Ludacris could not contain himself after being showered with compliments from the presidential hopeful. Although impervious to society’s norms and values, Ludacris is not above being flattered.
In his song he calls Obama “my man”; boasts to fellow rappers that he occupies a slot in “President” Obama’s iPod; wants Obama to spring him out of the slammer with a presidential pardon if he should land there; disparages Jackson as a gutless and slick politician; calls Clinton irrelevant and Bush mentally deficient; and urges blacks to get out the vote for Obama because only in this way can they paint the White House black and rejoice in terrifying the mainstream. About the Republican nominee, he raps, “McCain don’t belong in any chair unless he’s paralyzed.”
Barack Obama’s camp released an obligatory condemnation of the lyrics while insisting Ludacris is talented. Most times Ludacris does have a talent for telling the truth — with the panache of a juvenile delinquent. But he does have another talent.
The creators of hip-hop, including Ludacris, see themselves as social and political activists. They have the power to get out the black youth vote through their hypnotic beats and rhymes. Obama knows this — and ingratiated himself to Ludacris. The rapper responded by elevating Obama to the status of a destined messiah above reproach and, using what he thought was the edgy bite of truth, attacked Jackson, Clinton and Bush in his song.
Looking at the presidential campaign through the prism of race, Ludacris ignored the obvious truth: Obama is no less a slick politician than Jackson. Now that Obama scolded him after calling him a favorite rapper, Ludacris should be the edgy truth sayer he fancies himself to be and challenge Obama with the words he threw to Jackson: “Obama talking slick and apologizing for what? If you said it, then you meant it, how you want it, have a gut.” I doubt that Ludacris has “a gut” for this confrontation because, like Jackson, he probably wants to preserve the appearance of black solidarity with Obama.
As for whites who condemn Ludacris for his lewd lyrics and his audacity in taking on the white political establishment, they too look through the prism of race and forget that the black “bad boys” of hip-hop are no different from the white “bad boys and girls” of yesteryear and today: The beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Elvis Presley, Madonna and many others.
Race as usual trumps truth in America.
Usha Nellore is a writer living in Bel Air. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.