Young black activists roared their approval when Barack Obama recently greeted criticism on the trail by dusting off his shoulders, a reference to a rap song by Jay-Z called "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." The media covering the moment went crazy, too. Washington Post reporter Teresa Wiltz hailed Obama's moves and called it a "seminal moment in the campaign, the merging of politics and pop culture," and noted the lyrics suggest, "If you feelin' like a pimp ... go and brush your shoulders off."
So Barack Obama is feeling like a pimp?
Online at "The Root," a Washington Post website for African-Americans, Obama supporter and Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell was sky-high. "Like every other hip-hop generation voter in America I went crazy when he did it," she wrote. "I almost couldn't believe it. It was a perfect moment."
Harris-Lacewell read that moment as a sign of racial swagger and solidarity with "his base of young urban brown and black voters," and they loved it. "He displayed all the familiar self-assurance and bravado of the hip-hop emcee. The people who got it went nuts, while those who don't know hip-hop just thought he was being funny and confident."
The video went viral and became a YouTube sensation.
What is it about this music that drove Obama to emulate it, and drove the Princeton professor crazy in the process? This Jay-Z song boasts about a "middle finger to the law." Harris-Lacewell touted that Obama would like the song "99 Problems," which has an entire verse about being racially profiled by the "mother f---ing law" for "doing 55 in a 54." Jay-Z also tells critics to kiss his whole (rectum).
Sen. Obama claims to be a fan of Jay-Z and Kanye West, but he knows that he has to distance himself a little from the lyrical lows of this "art." He's been gently critical in interviews. "I love the art of hip hop. I don't always love the message of hip hop," he said. Even with the rappers he loves, "There's a message that is not only sometimes degrading to women; not only uses the N-word a little too frequently; but also something I'm really concerned about, it's always talking about material things."
"A little too frequently?" This is like saying a tsunami's a little too wet.
Obama should take a look at a new report from the Parents Television Council about three popular rap-music programs that air in the afternoon or early evening -- "Sucker Free" on MTV and "Rap City" and "106 & Park" on Black Entertainment Television for two weeks in December and a week in March.
In 41 and a half hours studied, analysts found 282 uses of the N-word. Is that "a little too frequently," too?
A little too much degrading of women? In those same hours, there were 143 uses of the B-word to describe women.