Barack Obama's inauguration was an enormous magnet for the stars of stage, screen, TV and radio, the celebrity-stuffed culmination of the goals of the Sixties' civil rights movement. Some of the most prominent stars were black musicians. This is an opportunity to raise the question: Whither goest black popular culture, especially hip-hop music, under the new president?
1. Will the Obama presidency drain the swamp of hip-hop hate? Can he remake the dividers into uniters? On Tuesday night, the rapper Jay-Z performed on the ABC Inaugural Ball special in a tux and nerdy glasses, toning down the thug-rap with a song called "History." ABC didn't have to bleep a single word, even if the older demographics in the audience were still wondering why this is called music. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the pendulum of rap music swung away from glorifying the "thug life" of drug dealers, pimps and gangsters? With a black man in the White House, could rappers be less pessimistic about authority? When talking about The Man, there is no more powerful man in Washington than the black man just sworn in as our 44th president.
The early signs aren't promising. On YouTube, Jay-Z and another rapper, Young Jeezy, appeared at a Monday night "Hip Hop Inaugural Ball" in Washington. They certainly weren't in the spirit of optimism and nonpartisanship. Jeezy proclaimed: "I wanna thank two people. I wanna thank the mother [profanity] overseas that threw two shoes at George Bush. Listen, listen! I wanna thank the mother [profanity] who helped them move their [profanity] up out of the White House ... My president is mother [profanity] black!"
Jay-Z rapped: "You can keep ya puss, I don't want no more Bush/ no more war, no more Iraq, no more white lies, my president is black!"
Looking at rappers like this, you really have to wonder if they really believe their own wealth-building bluster about how terrible America's been to them. What kind of dystopian country have these young black millionaires been living in? Jay-Z was born a few weeks before 1970, Young Jeezy was born in 1977. When they were growing up in the Carter and Reagan years, was America a land of apartheid and oppression? Sadly, some of the most successful hip-hop music thrives on an extreme of pessimism and despair, and spreads it, like poisoned peanut butter. But they never lived it.